The Baseball Hall of Fame Was Almost My Neighbor

Happy anniversary, Baseball Hall of Fame. Once, you were almost my neighbor.

In 1986 when I was 25 and the sports editor of a three-times-a-week newspaper in South Carolina, I decided to leave journalism to join the family printing business and office supply store – business cards, letterhead, flyers, staplers, and the occasional office suite that my brothers and I would have to install, etc.

But leaving newspapers was harder than I thought it would be. It was like losing an arm that hadn’t even reached full strength yet, and the void felt like a demanding itch. I wasn’t in the family biz for six months before a moment of weakness took me and I answered an ad in the magazine Editor & Publisher for what I imagined might be the perfect job for me in a part of the world I’d always fantasized about.

By then, the classified ads in the back of E&P were favorite reading material. This was how a number of ink-stained wretches found jobs in those days. Most newspapers subscribed to E&P – it was the leading trade journal for the publishing industry, newspapers in particular (it still exists, by the way). Before and and some of the other journalism job sites, this was where many young writers and editors looked for their next job, particularly if they didn’t know someone with influence who could help them land that job they thought they wanted.

As a young wretch, I applied to a number of E&P ads and actually got my first full-time job through one of these classifieds. I left that sports editor job after almost two years to move to Georgia and learn how to operate an offset duplicator (sheet-fed printing press), and make negatives, and a lot of other stuff. But after six months of that, I was really missing the writing and editing work, and was already getting tired of being tethered that old AB Dick. I was thinking of getting back into the world of broadsheets and 10-point type and writing deadlines.

The local library happened to subscribe to E&P and I started looking at them. It was the summer 1986 when I saw the add that called to me, unbidden and unexpected. WANTED: Editor for ‘Freeman’s Journal,’ award-winning family-owned weekly newspaper in beautiful, historic Cooperstown, N.Y. I had to read it a few times and pinch myself then throw water in my face. The ad was still there.

See, by then and for a long time, I’d fantasized about Cooperstown the way I’d fantasized about Middle Earth. The big difference being, of course, that Cooperstown actually exists on this planet and I’d even visited a couple of times, and it had exceeded my youthful expectations. It was a wonderland for me, the outsider, the infrequent visitor.

Here was the mythological birthplace of baseball, the idyllic-looking rural village in upstate New York – George Bailey country, by God; home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I knew the demands of the weekly newspaper editor, knew I’d be working 60 hours a slow week, knew that the demands of the job would probably keep me from enjoying the aforementioned baseball Valhalla very much.

But mostly I thought, “Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and new inductees year after year after year, forever and anon.”

After a couple of telephone interviews the owner of the newspaper, Bob Miller, actually offered me the position, sight unseen. I was going to live in the village of my dreams! The only problem is, I wasn’t an “I” any more. I was a “we.” Jane and I had gotten married and left New York a few years earlier to start our lives in the sultry South, and she, for one, did not miss the cold winters up north. In fact, she told me, “I know how much you love Cooperstown, and I’ll love it, too – in the summer.” She allowed that the winters would be torture for her, but she would make the move to upstate New York if it was I really wanted.

Time to agonize over a decision. I didn’t agonize long. I called Mister Miller and thanked him, but said, “no, thank you.” It was too early in the game to leave the family business. It was too risky to move my wife back into the cauldron of cold. It was too self-centered to make a 1,000 move to pursue something that was more a fantasy than a dream.

There have been days when I’ve regretted the decision, but not many. What would I have missed? Plenty. For starters, we’d just found out that Jane was pregnant (Samantha was on her way). Then, not long after turning down the job (which would have started in the fall, a lovely time of year, followed quickly by winter, Jane’s most dreaded time of year), we found out my father, who’d started the printing business, had cancer. It turned out he had less than a year with us on Earth. He got to spend a few precious months getting to know his first grandchild, Sam. I wouldn’t have traded that for a gig in Middle Earth, let alone Cooperstown.

Moving right then to Cooperstown, N.Y., with everything that was about to happen would have been a bad move, I think.

We stayed in Georgia and started a family. I satisfied my sports writing jones with freelance work at The Athens Observer and we ran the print shop for several years until we ran it out of business. When Dad died, the entrepreneurial spirit that drove us died.

But today is on the anniversary of the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which celebrated with a gala grand opening featuring speeches from the first great players inducted. On this same day in 1939, Lou Gehrig (who would soon be inducted into the Hall through a special election) was playing for the last time in an New York Yankees uniform (an exhibition game – he’d already taken himself out of the lineup).

So, this is a momentous day for Cooperstown, where baseball history is preserved in a wonderful museum that I last saw about 38 years ago. It’s changed a lot since then, I’m told; only gotten better, I’m certain. Someday, I’ll go back there and take my family. But I’m glad to have visited twice already, visits that filled my heart and sent my head spinning: Once with my father and little brother (and cousin and uncle), and a few years later with my older brother and wife-to-be Jane.

And then there was that one time that I almost went there to live, in baseball heaven. But to paraphrase John Lennon, life had other plans. I’m better than OK with that.

My cousin Matt Stelluto and I at the Baseball Hall of Fame (1976, I think).

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