MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

Little revealed, but Cooperstown tales abound

Noble: Little revealed, but Cooperstown tales abound

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The Secret of Sunday Night is well kept. Precious little seeps from inside the dining room at the stately Otesaga Hotel to the ears of the public. It is Sunday night of Induction Weekend when the Hall of Fame players gather for the last time until next summer. It's players only except for Jeff Idelson, the president of the Hall, and, should he choose to attend, the Commissioner.

The evening has been described in many colorful and censor-objectionable words. "A happy war among men who enjoy each other's company," was tried on Phil Niekro a few years ago, and he says, "Yeah, that covers it. It gives you an idea of what goes on." But he tells no tales.

Lou Brock says, "It's like a roast. We roast anyone and everyone for no particular reasons."

Goose says, "It's like a clubhouse. We pick at each other."

And like a clubhouse, the room has neighborhoods, or in the case of the Secret of Sunday Night dinner, it has tables. No table is officially designated until a recognized member takes a seat and is joined by members of his equivalents.

Where Seaver, Koufax or Carlton sits is the wine table. Ozzie's group forms the "Judy" table, as in "Punch and Judy." Carew feels comfortable there. So does Gwynn. And where else would you put Aparicio? Even Morgan, Brett and Boggs may sit there. Genuine sluggers -- Reggie, Frank Robby, et al -- aren't unwelcome. Nor are they invited. Cepeda is the exception.

"They need me to inspire and protect them," the Baby Bull says. "They need a big man."

There may be an octogenarian table, though no one uses that description. Seventy-somethings aren't excluded. Imagine that gathering. Oh, the stories! Yogi and Whitey, Kiner and Red, Doerr, Lasorda, Earl and The Rat. Maybe Doug Harvey. He and Herzog, Hall of Fame classmates in 2010, have no more differences -- until they begin a conversation. Herzog says, "Where the old guys sit is the big shots' table."

Some members -- Bench, Brock, Brooks -- are quite welcome wherever. And actually, Lasorda would sit at any table that would listen.

"The pitchers usually sit together, even the ones who don't bring wine," Ozzie says, laughing. "Snobs. Yeah, they think everything begins with them."

"Ozzie's just miffed because he's not at the table," Seaver says. "But he's better than the guys who bring $12 swill and want to sit down." Seaver is a winemaker. GTS -- George Thomas Seaver -- is the label. That monogram takes precedence for him now over ERA. But not HOF.

And he loves to refer to a certain former Mets beat reporter as "Noble Rot." It's a wine term for a fungus that enhances some grapes. He claims.

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More from Sunday -- after the dinner.

Goose reaffirmed his standing as the most normal star. Roland Hemond, here to receive the Buck O'Neil Award for service to the game, retains his standing as the happiest and nicest man in the game and the most energized, active and flexible 81-year-old man on the planet. He danced from one end of the floor to the other at breakneck speed and after sharing some words about some long-ago completed transaction, he hit the floor. Break dancing.

Molitor could have given up his day job. He can sing. The year of his induction, he sang Springsteen's "Born to Run" and you knew he had sung it previously and not only in the shower. Sunday he performed the Boss' "Glory Days." Yount's critique was, "You really can sing."

In the adjacent bar, Ozzie and Eddie Murray mourned the absence of Puck. They recalled performing -- they lip-synched and did the moves of the Temptations -- with Puckett and Winfield. More than that, they missed Puck's Louie Armstrong. His "What a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly" would have had Satchmo weeping.

Murray also told of how Orioles teammates held Belanger's glove in such high regard. He did, too. But he told them of a kid who had been his high school teammate. It was Ozzie.

Did you know that Murray never switch-hit until 1976, the year before he was promoted to the big leagues? Or that Cleon Jones was a natural left-handed hitter? A pond of stagnant water lay beyond right field where he and his buddies played as kids. Cleon lost too many balls, so he was persuaded to bat right-handed and hit .340 in 1969. Similar circumstances developed with Hideki Matsui. He was too dominant a right-handed hitter as a kid when he played organized baseball. He turned around and has hit 500 professional home runs.

Doug Harvey was umpiring in the National League in 1978-80 when Blyleven was throwing his curve for the Pirates. The newest Hall of Fame pitcher fooled more than his share of batters. But not Harvey. "Because I took my time, made sure of my call and then raised my hand," Harvey says. "But I'll tell you one time that it was a challenge. I worked one Opening Day game, Braves and Houston. I had one Niekro in one bullpen warming up, and the other one in the other bullpen. I didn't see a straight pitch all day."

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Dallas Green was part of the group who attended Sunday's induction to hail former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick. People who hadn't seen him since his 9-year-old granddaughter Christina Taylor-Green was killed in Tucson in January expressed condolences and concern for the big man who was so struck by the shooting that killed his "special little girl" and five others.

The lunatic who struck in Norway on Friday had to have unnerved Green all over again. He kept a lower profile than he usually does at this wonderful weekend. Each summer, Cooperstown borrows Disney World's billing and becomes "the happiest place on earth" for three days. Not every day and not for everyone.

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.