COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Sixty-six years after the first induction ceremony was held on Main Street in front of what was then the spanking new National Baseball Hall of Fame, the grand old red-bricked facility was rededicated on Friday afternoon, signaling the official completion of a three-year, $20 million renovation. Thirty-five of the 60 living Hall of Famers, including new inductees Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs, sat on folding chairs in front of the glittering glass entryway. Those doors now open to a museum that's more fan-friendly, more kid-friendly and more handicap-accessible. Thousands of fans attended the opening ceremony back then and thousands were on the street again for Friday's rededication. Hugh Hardy, a New York architect who designed the renovation, was able to open 10,000 square feet of space that can accommodate 14 new exhibits.
"They did a wonderful job with it," said Mike Schmidt, the great Philadelphia Phillies third baseman who was inducted in 1995. "They made it very user-friendly. They made it fun for kids. It's much more colorful. And this should stand up for another 20, 30 years the way it is right now." The museum opened on June 12, 1939, in conjunction with the celebration of baseball's centennial, the game's first hundred years of play. The building was designed and founded by Stephen Carlton Clark, whose granddaughter, Jane Forbes Clark, is now the chairman of the board. The Baseball Writers Association of America began electing players to the Hall in 1936. And the 11 surviving members of the original group of 25 electees stood in front of the painted red wooden doors to the right side of what is now the main entry and accepted that honor on a sunny June day. In attendance were some of Major League Baseball's greatest figures from the early part of the 20th century -- Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, George Sisler, Eddie Collins, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Ty Cobb. "Babe Ruth made a speech," noted Clark in her presentation, adding that all the other players did as well except for the fleet-footed Cobb. "Ty Cobb's flight was late. He arrived too late to speak at his own induction." All those players are immortalized in the expanded plaque room and are among the 258 players, managers, umpires and executives who already have a place in the Hall. The renovation is the seventh since the museum opened, but the first in 11 years. The six other projects all occurred between 1950 and 1994, adding exhibit space, the Hall of Fame Gallery, the Hall of Fame Library and the museum store. The current project, which included $2.5 million in New York State public funds, connected the seven existing buildings into a single facility, increased multimedia capability and added more interactive exhibits, said Dale Petroskey, the Hall's president. Exhibit space has now been increased to more than 50,000 square feet. "I think it's so much more fan-friendly," said Johnny Bench, the great Cincinnati Reds catcher, who was inducted in 1989. "It seemed too congested the way it was, in a way. There's a lot more natural light, which I didn't think we had enough of before. It used to have a cave-like or tomb feel to it sometimes. "Plus, there are so many artifacts here. We have about 35,000 of them and we used to be able to see less than half. Now 7,000 more objects will go on display and we'll be able to rotate them. Every time you go through here, you'll see something new. I'm a fan. I love it. I'll always be wrapped up in history."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.