Yet there is one ballpark that isn't often mentioned in the same breath as those cathedrals of our national game. A ballpark whose history is equally as rich, not for the moments of greatness it has seen, but for the people who have graced it and the purity for which it stands. A ballpark where the only thing that matters is the game, in its essence and its entirety. This ballpark is Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., where Monday the Detroit Tigers will face the Boston Red Sox in the 59th annual Hall of Fame Game.
As the well-known tale goes, Abner Doubleday is said to have invented the national game in Cooperstown in 1839. In the early decades of the 20th century, upon the recognition of Doubleday's achievement, the Village of Cooperstown and executives from Major League Baseball agreed to designate Cooperstown as the official birthplace of baseball and the game's permanent home. A Centennial celebration to mark this designation and the 100th anniversary of baseball was scheduled for the summer of 1939.
The main event of the centennial celebration was the induction of baseball's first Hall of Famers and a game featuring Major League All-Stars (including new inductee Babe Ruth) to be played on the recently finished Doubleday Field. In addition to the "All-Star game" in June, the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees took part in exhibition games played versus Minor League teams on separate occasions later that summer as part of the centennial celebration.
These events gave birth to the idea of the "Hall of Fame Game", to be held annually on Induction weekend, in which two Major League teams would make the trip to Cooperstown to face each other in an exhibition in celebration of the national game.
Scheduled since 1940, there have been 58 of these games, with six having been cancelled either due to World War II, inclement weather, or a player's strike. As of a couple of years ago, the game now takes place on a separate weekend earlier in the year. In total, 118 Major League teams have played on Doubleday Field over that time span. These games are where the history of Doubleday Field unfolded.
Including 2005 inductees Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg, as well as Hall of Famers who took part in an old-timers game in 1989, 71 of the 260 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame have played on Doubleday Field. Over one-quarter of baseball's greatest have practiced their craft in the home of the sport. Quite an impressive ratio for a small ballpark located at least 200 miles from the nearest Major League city. This, however, is just the beginning of the story.
Of the Hall of Fame's 260 members, only 195 are former Major League players. Out of over 15,000 who have played the game, membership in the Hall of Fame is certainly an exclusive club. Considering then that it is actually 71 of 195 of the game's best players have played in Cooperstown, you begin to get a sense of just how special a venue Doubleday Field really is.
However, the stature of baseball's home field becomes even more impressive when you consider that of the 195 former big leaguers in the Hall of Fame, a total of 90 of those player's careers ended before 1939, making it impossible for them to have taken part in any of the Hall of Fame games (aside from Ruth, who appeared in the inaugural game as a pinch-hitter).
That leaves 105 members of the Hall of Fame who could have played on Doubleday Field, given the time period that their careers encompassed.
A total of 71 out of those 105 players saw action on Doubleday Field. More than two-thirds of baseball's greatest players, whose careers would have allowed them the opportunity to play in Cooperstown, did in fact do so. Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle are just a few of the game's greatest that have played there.
Given that the Hall of Fame Game is an exhibition in the middle of the regular season, starting pitchers, in theory, would never be asked to pitch. The fact that 12 of the 30 Hall of Fame pitchers (whose careers would have allowed it) have toed the rubber on Doubleday Field is amazing enough by itself.
Taking into account the number of starting pitchers, it now stands that 59 of the remaining 75 Hall of Fame position players have played on Doubleday Field. That means that nearly four out of five members (who could have) of professional sports' most famous shrine have played on the very field that is home to the sport. With players such as Roger Clemens, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Rafael Palmeiro and others soon to follow, this number will undoubtedly become even more impressive in the future.
There are other numbers of distinction about the history of Doubleday Field, including:
Twenty out of the 30 members of the recently voted "Major League Baseball All-Century Team" have played on Doubleday Field.
Nine of the 16 managers who are enshrined in Cooperstown have managed a game on Doubleday Field. Bill McKechnie, Connie Mack, Leo Durocher, Bucky Harris, Al Lopez, Casey Stengel, Lou Boudreau, Walter Alston, and Sparky Anderson all guided their clubs in Cooperstown. This list does not include Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Red Schoendienst, and Gabby Hartnett, who all managed a team in a Hall of Fame Game and are in the Hall of Fame as players.
Six times the team who later won the World Series has played on Doubleday Field earlier that same year. Of those six, the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals, 1968 Tigers, 1984 Tigers and 1991 Minnesota Twins won both the Hall of Fame Game and the World Series.
In addition to those six, six other teams have played in Cooperstown and later represented their league or division in the playoffs that same season, with only the 1975 Red Sox making it all the way to the World Series.
With Boston's appearance this season, the defending World Series champions have played in Cooperstown eight times, with the 1954 Yankees, 1967 Baltimore Orioles, 1980 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1983 Cardinals winning the previous year's World Series title and the next year's Hall of Fame Game.
Nine times the League MVP has played in Cooperstown the year that he took home the award. New York Yankee DiMaggio in 1947; Boston Brave Bob Elliot, also in 1947; Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella in 1951; Chicago Cub Hank Sauer in 1952; Yankee Yogi Berra in 1954; Twin Harmon Killebrew in 1969; Fred Lynn of the Red Sox in 1975; Oriole Ripken in 1983; and Texas Ranger and current Tiger Ivan Rodriguez in 1999.
Five times the League Rookie of the Year has played on Doubleday Field in the same year that he won the award. Washington Senator Albie Pearson in 1958; Cleveland Indian Chris Chambliss in 1971; Lynn in 1975; Tiger Lou Whitaker in 1978; and Twin Chuck Knoblauch in 1991.
Monday, the Red Sox and Tigers will pay a visit to Cooperstown and play in this year's game. There, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Pudge Rodriguez, Dmitri Young and others will have an opportunity to add their names to the history of baseball's most unheralded venue.
Perhaps they will ignore the lengthy bus rides to and from the airport and forget about the nuisance of traveling to a small town in upstate New York at the beginning or end of a long road trip. Perhaps they will remember why they play this game and then play it like they were Little Leaguers, all the while realizing that they are fortunate to be walking the same ground as those they aspire to be also once tread upon.
With new ballparks appearing everywhere, it may be their only chance to dig the same hole in the batter's box as Stan Musial or Jimmie Foxx, field the same position as Jackie Robinson or Roberto Clemente, or stare down a batter from the same mound as Lefty Grove or Robin Roberts. This is their opportunity to develop a link to the great players who have preceded them.
Throughout every summer over the last six-plus decades, teams from all over the world have played on Doubleday Field. Thousands of people have forged their own tie to baseball history, whether they knew it or not. For those who love baseball and appreciate the grand history of America's game, there is no other park in existence that can compare to historic Doubleday Field.
M. Kristian Connolly is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.