Hall of Fame Weekend is coming up this Saturday and Sunday and the old town of Cooperstown, N.Y., nestled on the banks of Otsego Lake, population 2,000, may never be the same. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. are the featured inductees this year, leading to a stampede of fans and media that should be uncommon even for this special annual event, which again is slated for the last weekend in July, with the Induction Ceremonies to be held Sunday.
It was the first year of eligibility for both players, coming five years after the close of their stellar careers.
Hordes are expected to drive north from the Baltimore area, where Ripken was born and played in 2,632 consecutive games for the hometown Orioles, the club for which he played for his entire career. Gwynn, who had 3,141 hits and won eight National League batting titles -- all for the Padres -- is expected to have his own large contingent traveling east from San Diego, where he also went to college, only 90 miles from his hometown of Long Beach. "As Sunday approaches, you can't help but to be nervous," Gwynn said Friday during a conference call with the media, adding that his speech is written. "You can't help but want to do a good job. I'm just hoping emotionally I can keep it together long enough to get my message across. I'm excited about it, but at the same time, nervous about it." Sunday's 1:30 p.m. ET ceremony will be streamed live without interruption at Baseballhall.org and BaseballChannel.TV. There could be more than 50,000 fans in attendance, placing this induction in a league of its own along with the 1999 induction of Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount -- the only one thus far to crack the 50,000 mark. In comparison, an estimated 11,000 were in town last year when former reliever Bruce Sutter was the only player elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America [BBWAA]. A record 53 of the 61 living Hall of Famers will be on hand for the ceremony. Legends run the gamut from Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Feller to more recent inductees Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Eckersley and Gary Carter. Ripken said that pressure has built in the months since he was elected. "You look at the stages," Ripken said during his Thursday conference call. "Back when I got the call, I felt a great deal of excitement, but it seemed pretty far away. Now that we're at the homestretch, there's a feeling of absolute terror, wondering if you're ready or not." Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communication and education, noted that there are 200 buses already scheduled to arrive in town, mostly from Maryland. Last year there were only seven. Gwynn said there are four chartered flights slated to wing east from San Diego for the ceremony: Three sponsored by the Padres and one by the alumni of his alma mater, San Diego State, where Gwynn is the head baseball coach. "There's going to be a big contingent there from San Diego," Gwynn said. "In a sea of [Orioles] black and orange, there will be some Padres brown and gold and Padres blue and orange in there. We're excited about it and I think the fans are excited about it. Yes, it's been a very interesting year as we come down the stretch." Around 800 credentials are expected to be issued and members of the media have been told that there are virtually no available hotel rooms in a wide swath of upstate New York from Albany west to Syracuse. The media hotel for members of the BBWAA is in Albany, the state's capital, some 90 minutes east of this tiny hamlet where, legend has it, Abner Doubleday invented what has long been anointed the national pastime. Just to give newcomers a sense of the drive, the last 22 miles off the interstate are along winding, scenic State Route 28, a two-lane road that passes through small towns and by green farm pastures inhabited by spotted cows adroitly ignoring the traffic. Once across the railroad tracks, the journey ends at a traffic light on Main and Chestnut Streets. From there it's a right turn up Main or a three-block stroll to the red-bricked museum. Like Gwynn, Ripken said he's ready for whatever Sunday brings. "It has reached another level of attention," Ripken said. "It raises the stimuli. It's all good, constantly good. Ferguson Jenkins said it's not dissimilar to Opening Day. You come out of Spring Training not sure if you're 100 percent or ready to go, but you can't wait to get into the regular season. Ryne Sandberg, who is kind of a low-key guy, said it's like playing second base. You take ground ball after ground ball in practice, and then when the game starts, it's all second nature."
The induction will be staged about a mile from downtown at the Clark Sports Center, where a large stage, supporting the inductees, the living Hall of Famers and Commissioner Bud Selig, is temporarily erected. VIPs are seated in about 1,000 white, folding plastic chairs directly in front of the stage and podium. Beyond that are the rolling fields where this year fans will be sprawled out on portable lounge chairs and blankets as far as the eye can see.
Other honorees that day include Rick Hummel, the long-time baseball scribe for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who was elected by the BBWAA as the winner of the J.G. Spink Award for meritorious writing, and Royals announcer Denny Matthews, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award, for broadcasting excellence.
Gwynn and Ripken have much in common: they played during the same era, their entire careers centering near their hometowns for a single Major League team, while dominating their respective leagues.
Ripken, who grew up the son of a baseball lifer in Aberdeen, Md., received a best-ever 537 votes on a record 545 ballots.
"Those numbers are overwhelming," he said. "I really didn't get caught up in wanting to be unanimous or wanting to have the most. I'm very content to be voted in."
Gwynn, who played 20 seasons for the Padres, received 532 votes, the second most ever.
Ripken garnered 98.53 percent of the vote, the most ever for a position player. He finished behind a pair of pitchers: Tom Seaver [98.83 in 1992] and Ryan [98.79 in 1999]. Gwynn's percentage of 97.6 percent ranks directly behind Ty Cobb, Brett and Hank Aaron -- pretty good company.
With the addition of Gwynn and Ripken to the Hall, 280 members have now been elected, including 198 former Major League players -- 105 of them by the BBWAA, whose voters must have at least 10 years of consecutive membership to receive a ballot.
Both were projected to be sure-fire first-timers.
"It's been unbelievable," Gwynn said. "From announcement day, which I figured wasn't that big a deal only to find out that was a huge deal, it's been very interesting."
Gwynn played for the 1984 and 1998 pennant-winning Padres and considers his home run at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series the highlight of his stellar career.
He tied Honus Wagner for the most NL batting titles in history, and his career-high .394 average during the strike-shortened 1994 season is the highest to lead either league in the past 65 years -- since Ted Williams became the last of the .400 hitters when he batted .406 to lead the American League in 1941.
In addition, Gwynn was a 16-time NL All-Star, batted .338 and won five Gold Gloves as a right fielder.
Ripken, a shortstop and third baseman, didn't miss a game from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, shattering the 2,130 record consecutive game streak once held by Lou Gehrig, the Yankees first baseman. Ripken had 3,184 hits -- including 431 home runs -- batted .276, was twice an AL Most Valuable Player (1983 and 1991), was a 19-time AL All-Star, and won two Gold Gloves.
His Orioles defeated the Phillies in five games to win the 1983 World Series, with Ripken, at short, snaring the series-ending line drive hit by Garry Maddux. But Ripken's Baltimore squad never again played in the Fall Classic during the course of his 21-year career.
Certainly, he captivated the hearts of baseball fans everywhere on the night of Sept. 7, 1995, at Camden Yards when the Iron Man slipped past the Iron Horse. That night, after the game against the Angels became official in the fifth inning and a numerical banner was unfurled on the adjacent warehouse, marking the occasion, Ripken circled the stadium on the warning track, slapping hands with many of the fans as a never-ending cacophony of cheers rained down upon him.
Ripken calls the catch ending the World Series his most significant professional moment. But he calls the lap his top human moment.
"That was completely spontaneous," Ripken said. "Catching the last out of the World Series was the best feeling because there was a sense of fulfillment, completion and joy. But the best human experience of my life was that lap."
In only a matter of days, both players will again be able to experience that sense of elation: on a makeshift stage in front of the multitudes, the words on their respective plaques being read by the Commissioner.
"It's going to be very emotional," Gwynn said. "This is where a lot of baseball players want to end up."
|"It's been unbelievable. From announcement day, which I figured wasn't that big a deal only to find out that was a huge deal, it's been very interesting."|
-- Hall inductee|
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.