In Cooperstown, eggs with side of nostalgia
Snapshots from a Hall of Fame weekend uniting old friends
Four breakfasts at the lovely Otesaga Hotel, four mornings when my path intersects with that of Ralph Kiner. (Intersection happens at the coordinates of omelets and home fries). Four opportunities to discuss the glorious weekend and the inglorious state of the Mets with a man whose knowledge of the game is remarkable. (The Mets are at the coordinates of "Uh oh" and "Oh no.")
After kibitzing, each of us retreats to his table. Four mornings mean four different tables for me. I'm not particular about my location. Each morning, Mr. Kiner is seated at the same table. Where else but in the Korner?
* * *
Is that really George Brett wearing a cap with a Yankees logo, the number "54" and the words "Goose Gossage" on it? "I used to hate Goose," Brett says Sunday night. "Now I love 'im." They call each other "buddy."
* * *
The Saturday night party that preceded the induction of Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor in 2004 included a wonderful ad-lib performance by four Hall of Famers. Mudcat Grant's combo played "My Girl," and Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett, each dressed to the nines, were the Temptations, well choreographed and quite cool.
Another band plays "My Girl" Sunday night. Winfield, Murray and Smith are there; a reprise of their act was not. "Can't without Kirby," Ozzie says. Puckett is missed.
* * *
Trips to Dodgertown in the 1970s and '80s rekindled my appreciation of fresh raspberries, as did breakfasts at the Otesaga. This year, though, raspberries are nowhere to be found. But a lament spoken within earshot of an accommodating waiter results in a large portion of my preferred berries being placed on a table I shared with Tom Seaver.
When they arrive, Seaver explains that he used to raise raspberries when he pitched for the Mets and lived in Greenwich, Conn. And I am relatively impressed, but less impressed when he spoons seven of my berries to his plate.
He later claims he had stolen merely two. "And what's the big difference between two and seven anyway?" he said.
I said, "It's all right, Thomas. I'm ordering seven bottles of your cabernet. I'll pay for two."
He said: "The bill will be in your mailbox before your get home."
"The check won't," I told him.
* * *
I had several enjoyable conversations with Dallas Green during the weekend. He still is John Wayne without a horse and hat, and he is a perfect presence for the weekend of Doug Harvey's induction. Who's more readily identifiable by his silver hair, Dallas or Doug?
Green always enjoys knocking people off their spots -- not physically.
Now, Seaver has always been good breakfast company. He brings The New York Times and a good morning disposition. A few years ago, I sat down with him at a large table, doubling the number of people seated. I felt quite comfortable. Known him for a long time.
Bob Gibson entered and took a seat at our table. I've known and appreciated Gibby since Joe Torre introduced us in 1981, when Gibby was to come aboard as the Mets' "attitude" coach. I felt comfortable with the two Hall of Fame pitchers. Not too far out of my element.
Sandy Koufax joined us.
I'd come to know him a bit from his visits to the Mets' Spring Training headquarters and interaction with Fred Wilpon. He still had that mystique because his public appearances were relatively few. But I was OK seated with Seaver, Gibson, Koufax. Among us, we had accumulated 727 victories, 9,153 strikeouts, eight Cy Young Awards, two MVP Awards and five World Series rings.
So I was OK, and, if I wasn't, I covered it up ... until Green entered the room, and with all the subtlety of The Duke in a cattle drive, and hollered, "What the hell are you doing at a table with these three?"
I drank orange juice.
* * *
The absence of Yogi Berra was palpable over the four days this year. Stan Musial hadn't been expected, nor baseball's Duke Snider. Without them, Bob Feller was a tad isolated, I thought. He, Kiner and Whitey Ford represented that generation. But Feller broke in in 1936. Kiner and Whitey came years later. Feller, the last Hall of Famer introduced at the Sunday ceremonies, is 93. He gets around well. He deserves a second plaque for his constitution.
No Yogi in the flesh, but Berra can never be fully absent. So it was that Brett regaled some of us with stories late Sunday night. Yogi came up. He and Brett had been golf partners on previous induction weekends. Brett recalled Yogi missing a six-foot putt. It was short and wide. And Yogi explained: "If I had hit it harder, I would have missed it closer." Sure.
* * *
Roland Hemond is one of the game's true gentlemen and one of the world's most likable people. But he is first and foremost a general manager. He held that position with the White Sox for 16 years. And regardless of his affiliation and job description, he still sees people through the eyes of a GM.
So it is Sunday night, and Hemond joins the group in the lounge in the Otesaga basement. The music has slowed, so the couples dancing were more readily identifiable. This is what Hemond saw:
"I got Gary Carter as my catcher, Eddie Murray at first, and [Ryne] Sandberg at second. Ozzie's my shortstop. I'll have Brett at third. I got [Rollie] Fingers in my pen.
"We've got Seaver and [Don] Sutton in the rotation." And when he found Gibson, he said, "He can pitch for me, too ... anytime."
"Winfield is in right. What an arm! And Billy Williams in left."
But even with John Fogerty and Willie Mays in town, no center fielder was available until Hemond was urged to turn around. "There ... " he said. "I got [Robin] Yount in center, and Molitor can be my DH."
And as his epilogue, Hemond said "Where's [Whitey] Herzog? He'd take this team even though they can't run anymore."
* * *
And finally there was Gibson, as much a presence now as he was in his prime. A proud, if somewhat less rigid, man whose company is always enjoyed. He bounces into breakfast Friday morning, looking spry despite his knee and his 74 years. He is a Hoot in every way.
He stops by the pancakes to say, "I was thinking about you last night."
"Why?" is my incredulous response.
"'Cause you always get on me about my hair," still black, but, surprisingly, his temples showed gray.
A soft smile comes to his face, "Obviously," Gibson says. "I haven't been to the drug story lately."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.