Commentary: Cooperstown sells baseball better than MLB does

  • Bob Roth, owner of A. Vitullo clothing store in the New Hartford, shows off a T-shirt honoring former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera on Friday in downtown Cooperstown. Rivera is among six players set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown. Baseball [BEN BIRNELL / OBSERVER-DISPATCH]

Chicago Tribune
Published: 7/20/2019 10:13:40 PM

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Cooperstown is like a pop-up town that reopens one weekend every July so everyone can feel young again remembering when baseball was great.

It’s basically a Norman Rockwell version of small-town America, with a nod to Gordon Gekko, as evidenced by the $42 parking-lot fee specially priced for Mariano Rivera’s number.

If only Harold Baines had worn a number significantly higher than 3, perhaps they would have priced it for him.

Outside of Sunday’s inductions of six players — Rivera, Baines, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay — the real purpose of Hall of Fame weekend is to sell memories for cold, hard cash, though credit cards are accepted, too.

Everyone connected with the game seemingly has a booth to autograph items, including the other Frank Thomas — the former Pirate, not the White Sox Hall of Famer.

Fans can briefly mingle with the famous and nearly famous, not to mention the infamous (Pete Rose and former Yankee Jim Leyritz). One of the most oft-repeated lines here is, “Who’s that?” followed by, “How much?”

One fan in the gridlocked autograph line told Lou Piniella that Piniella played in the “greatest game ever,” a Red Sox-Yankees game, no surprise. Piniella agreed.

Was it really the greatest game ever? It doesn’t matter. What mattered was Piniella confirmed the fan’s suspicion, and he’ll tell all his friends the story when he gets back home.

Baseball is not very good at selling itself. Declining ratings over the years for most World Series and All-Star games suggests its popularity peaked some time ago and may never return to its glory days.

But baseball does know how to sell nostalgia, perhaps better than any other sport. Let’s face it: Life was never better than back in the day, no matter what generation you belong to or how good your life actually is now. You get old, you feel old, and suddenly all the things you remember from that great decade seem so much cooler now.

Remember this, Generation Z. It happens to us all.

Cooperstown gives baseball fans a chance to remember players they once loved, and it also gives those old players a little bit of an ego boost, which everyone needs once in a while, famous or not.

Everyone goes away happy, whether you’ve emptied your pockets buying autographed stuff or filled your bank account signing things.

As long as baseball doesn’t kill itself with its constantly changing rules and its juiced-up ball, there will always be a need for this pop-up town named Cooperstown.

Baseball may turn into a niche sport, but Rockwell will never go out of style.

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