Long before the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was established in Cooperstown, New York, every real lover of baseball carried his own Hall of Fame in his own mind. I was reminded of this fact when my 14-year-old son and I visited the Cooperstown Museum recently. As we looked at the plaques, the old gloves, balls, bats, pictures and other exhibits, my own baseball recollections came back to me in a slow flood of memory.
When I was a boy, I would sit at the family dinner table listening to my uncles talk baseball, and I used to hear them respectfully mention such great players as Pop Anson, A. G. Spaulding and Wee Willie Keeler—players who preceded Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie and the other outstanding stars of my own boyhood. There is an oral tradition of baseball, which is passed on from generation to generation: it has, in itself, served as a kind of mythical Hall of Fame.
I have seen most of the players now immortalized at Cooperstown, when they were in the big leagues. I was told of the others by my elders. I, in turn, have told my son of all of these players. His first school composition was about King Kelly, who also is in the Hall of Fame. My uncles told me stories of "Slide, Kelly, Slide."
We stopped before the plaque of Ed Walsh, the old spitball pitcher, and I suddenly remembered a sultry sunless Sunday morning in August of 1911, when I was just seven years old. My older brother and I were walking along Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. He picked up off the sidewalk a white box seat ticket for that afternoon's baseball game at Comiskey Park. Both of us were admitted on the one ticket. Sitting in the grandstand we watched Ed Walsh pitch a winning no-hit game against the Boston Red Sox. This was one of the first and also most exciting experiences in my long years as a baseball fan. I went home spinning on air. And as I entered the front door, I was told that while we had been at the ball game, a new baby sister of mine had arrived. I replied spontaneously, not with these words but with this thought:
"Good. She will always be remembered because she was born on the day that Ed Walsh pitched a no-hit game."
That was more or less the beginning of my own private Hall of Fame. As the years went on, as I saw, lived, talked and read about baseball, many others joined Walsh there. One day my uncle, a traveling salesman, came home from a trip on the road and handed me the first regulation major league baseball which I ever owned. He told me that Rube Waddell had given it to him for me. I learned everything I could about Rube Waddell and was almost ready to fight anyone who said that Waddell was not a great pitcher.
Standing before Rube Waddell's plaque, I read that he had won more than 200 games in major league competition. But according to my own memories, Waddell had won only 193 games. I mentioned this discrepancy to Sid C. Keener, the old-time baseball reporter who is now the director of the museum. Keener got out all of the record books from the world's best baseball library, created by Ernest Lanigan, and sat at his desk in the Hall of Fame room, figuring and checking how many games Rube Waddell had really won. It is generally agreed that Waddell belongs with Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson and Ed Walsh. But the books do not agree on his record. Two of them credit him with 203 major league victories; two others give him a lifetime total of 193.
Details and memories of old games are treasured only by the fan who loves the game: to anyone else they are meaningless. But of such memories and recollections is baseball made. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is interesting and fascinating because it stimulates and sometimes challenges these memories.
The plaques are not the only stimuli. Through the glass of a showcase I read the first contract of Eddie Collins, signed by him and Connie Mack when Collins was a student and a varsity backfield man at Columbia University. Collins signed his own name to the contract but played his first big-league year under the name of Sullivan.
MASKS OF GLORY