Backtracking: In Our Times: More than 20,000 greeted baseball’s best in Cooperstown in 1989

FILEAl Barlick, right, after being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, greets Carl Yastrzemski, left, and Johnny Bench on July 23, 1989.

Everyone was seeing red Induction Weekend in Cooperstown in 1989.

Not the red of anger. It was the red of the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, primarily.

The throng of fans descended on America’s baseball capital on Sunday, July 23.

The big names drawing the crowd included Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox; Johnny Bench of the Reds; Red Schoendienst of the Cardinals; National League retired umpire Al Barlick and Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray.

The one most prepared for the big weekend in Cooperstown had to be Yastrzemski, or “Yaz” as he’s known to Boston fans. Yaz arrived at Doubleday Field on June 14 with a film crew from Boston’s WHDH-TV Channel 7 to prepare advance footage for a special to be aired the night before the ceremonies in Cooperstown.

“Looking like a professional golfer in a neat sweater and light colored slacks,” The Daily Star reported the next day, “Yaz took a brief time out to sign a few autographs, answer a few questions, and pose for a picture with Dave Wilshire, grounds keeper at Doubleday Field.”

Yastrzemski was also ready to entertain relatives and business associates in July, as he made reservations by booking the entire Cooperstown Motel. Destroyed by fire in recent years, a CVS store is now on the site on Chestnut Street.

“Yastrzemski himself will be staying with the other inductees at the Otesaga Hotel, but relatives and members of the Kahn’s Meats, Hillshire Farms and Sara Lee Cakes companies — for which he is a spokesman — are scheduled to stay at the Cooperstown Motel,” The Star reported on July 20.

The big day arrived, and a sun-splashed crowd estimated at 20,000 somehow managed to squeeze into Cooper Park outside the National Baseball Library for the induction ceremony.

“Sunday’s ceremony was a fitting continuation of the celebration of six weeks ago,” The Star continued, “when the Hall had its 50th anniversary. With the recent dedication of the new Fetzer-Yawkey Building the Hall of Fame is now bigger and better than ever, and this year’s induction ceremony was certainly one of the biggest ever.”

Fans came from far and wide, “But the loudest and most exuberant fans came from Massachusetts and the rest of New England to cheer for Carl Yastrzemski, who in 23 years with the Red Sox had 452 homers and 3,419 hits. He is the only American League player to hit those plateaus in his career.”

Baseball fans continued seeing red on Monday, as the former teams of Bench and Yastrzemski, the Reds and Red Sox, were scheduled to meet in the annual Hall of Fame Game.

The game was making more news than usual that year, especially from the Cincinnati side. As The Star reported on July 22, “Pete Rose doesn’t want publicity of his court fight with major league baseball to overshadow one of Johnny Bench’s grandest moments.

“Rose has received permission from Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott to stay behind Monday when his team plays the Boston Red Sox in the annual Hall of Fame exhibition game.

Rose, a teammate of Bench on Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s, said he didn’t want to have the media focus on him at the festivities. Rose was in trouble with the Commissioner of Baseball at the time, on charges that when he was Reds’ manager, had bet on his own team, which carried a possible lifetime ban from the game.

As it turned out, the only glitch of Induction Weekend 1989 came when the Reds weren’t able to travel to Cooperstown for the game after the team plane developed problems in the hydraulic system before it left the ground. The team was unable to get another charter flight out of Montreal. The Red Sox were in town, so members split into two squads for a seven-inning game. About three-quarters of the sellout crowd of 9,791 stayed for the entire game, which ended in a 4-4 tie.

This weekend: They swam to music in Oneonta’s Wilber Park in the summer of 1939. 

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com