There are certain must see places or events that hardcore fans from any walk of life really ought to experience for themselves.. A movie buff has got to make it out to Los Angeles to visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Shopaholics ought to make it to the Mall of America in Minnesota. Rock and roll die hards ought to catch acts like AC/DC or Bruce Springsteen while they still can. Every wrestling fan should make it WrestleMania once. Not every baseball fan will ever be able to afford World Series or All Star Game tickets, but visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame is within many fans’ reach.
The Hall is based in Cooperstown, New York—an otherwise inconspicuous small town in Upstate New York. In addition to being a hotspot for nostalgia and celebrating the sport at hand, it is notorious for housing one of the most uniquely comprehensive and versatile collections of memorabilia associated with any specific endeavor. Sure, the Hall has its events—speakers, parties, autograph signings, and most notably the annual induction ceremony each July. Visiting at any time of year, independent of any special occassion is still a memorable experience, though, for true fans of the national pastime.
There’s plenty to fill a day visiting the Hall, but what’s the best of use of that time? This article takes an in depth look at 20 hidden gems that every tried and true baseball fan should make the time for when they make the trip to Cooperstown.
20 See The Highest Valued Baseball Card In The World
While the Mickey Mantle rookie card may remain the most famous card in all of baseball, many serious collectors consider the 1909 American Tobacco Company Honus Wagner card the true holy grail of the hobby. The company released baseball cards as promotional tools, but reportedly ceased the practice when they arrived at a monopoly and no longer needed special bonuses to move their packs of cigarettes.
The incredibly rare, old card, depicting a legend of the game, has sold at well into six figures at auction, and even up into the million dollars in a few reported cases.
While the Internet has made an image of the card accessible to anyone who’d like to see it, the Baseball Hall of Fame offers a unique opportunity for the everyday collector to actually see a copy of the card in person.
19 Find Favorite Team’s Locker
One of the featured exhibits from the Baseball Hall of Fame is a display that captures every team in professional baseball with its own distinct locker containing memorabilia unique to that franchise. While there are many undeniable legends of the sport, this part of the Hall caters to literally any Major League Baseball fan by capturing historical players and moments from every single franchise.
Of course, some teams have a bit more impressive lockers than others, given how long and decorated their histories have been. Nonetheless, they’re all worth a look.
18 Catch Sight Of Pete Rose’s Jersey
Perhaps the most famous controversy related to the Baseball Hall of Fame is Pete Rose’s exclusion from it. Despite being an undeniably great player, Rose got caught up an iconic scandal—accused of gambling on games he was involved in as a player or manager.
Rose’s case elicits strong opinions. There are differing views on whether he was guilty or not, and, even assuming he was guilty, whether that was just cause to keep his level of achievement on the field from being recognized in the Hall. Despite Rose himself remaining under a lifetime ban, you actually can catch sight of a game worn jersey of Rose’s amidst the Hall’s expansive memorabilia collection.
17 Check Out The Bat Babe Ruth Used To Hit His 60th Home Run
Babe Ruth is one of the most undeniable and universally popular icons of American sports in general, let alone baseball. He combined sensational power hitting with charisma to become a full on celebrity, who has lived on something like a modern folk hero.
Among Ruth’s legendary feats was hitting 60 home runs in a season—an iconic record at the time.
While the record has since been broken more than once, Ruth stands out not only as a legend, but for having made history long before the controversies associated with performance enhancing substances. Moreover, while the record may not stand, seeing the bat that he set it with remains a rare glimpse into history from nearly a century ago.
16 Hit The Shops
Anyone who has visited a tourist attraction is familiar with seeing vendors try to take advantage of visitors who are all too eager to collect souvenirs. The Baseball Hall of Fame isn’t above this dynamic. In an otherwise sleepy town, the Hall is the main attraction that draws hardcore fans and families alike.
While not every business in Cooperstown is worth going out of your way for, there are multiple very serious trading card shops and memorabilia stores unique to the area that sell some real treasures. It’s a great place for collectors to track down rare items. Plus, even for those who can’t justify dropping big money for these kinds of materials, there’s nonetheless the chance to see even more captivating mementos of history as well as unique contemporary swag.
15 The Lou Gehrig Scrapbooks
Lou Gehrig’s wife Eleanor was something of an amateur historian. As detailed on the Baseball Hall of Fame website, she meticulously collected newspaper clippings and photos of her husband throughout his career for a remarkably comprehensive collection of media and information.
In 1956, Eleanor donated the scrapbooks to the Hall of Fame where they’ve been well cared for and archived, and are available for fans and historians to deep dive into and understand one of the game’s great legends as both an athlete and a man.
14 Spot Remnants Of Era Of Segregation
While the term “negro” is far from politically correct or acceptable in contemporary conversation, the Baseball Hall of Fame openly acknowledges the history of the sport, including that it was segregated for quite some time, with a separate “Negro League.”
Included in the recollection of this part of history is an increasingly famous replica door marked “Colored Entrance” which has drawn criticism from some fans who don’t appreciate a commemoration of that part of history.
Others laud the hall for being honest about where the country and sport were, as a representation of how far they have since come.
13 Find Curt Schilling’s Famous Sock
The 2004 American League Championship series saw long time rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox duel. Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling became the talk of the series, playing game six beautifully despite visibly bleeding through his sock.
A 2014 article by Ian Browne for the Major League Baseball website details that Schilling underwent an experimental procedure that allowed him to play the game despite a torn tendon. The bloody sock was less a sign he was hurt than a byproduct of the stitches to fix him up from his surgery. Nonetheless, the sock became a memorable part of the historic series and is now on display at the Hall of Fame.
12 See How Cy Young Shaved
It’s telling that while Cy Young himself may not remain much of a household name since retiring in 1911, his legacy does live in on modern baseball. Even those fans who may not know much about the man himself surely know of his namesake, the Cy Young Award, an honor bestowed upon the best pitcher after each season.
It’s little surprise that Young would be in the Hall of Fame, but it’s a bit more surprising that one piece of memorabilia to celebrate him would be a razor that he shaved with. While so many of the pieces on the display at the Hall are legitimately iconic, this one is a bit more oddball, if nonetheless an unexpected treat for a hardcore fan to get to see.
11 Honest About Players In "Home Run Era"
It would be easy enough for the Baseball Hall of Fame to gloss over steroids and other performance enhancing drugs given the level of controversy and even disgrace they’ve brought upon the game and various record breakers in the modern era. To the Hall’s credit, though, it owns up to the issue at hand.
The Hall has a plaque posted, noting that athletes who have admitted to or are heavily suspected of PED use are featured in the Hall, and that history will dictate how they’re ultimately received.
The Hall itself fairly enough seems committed to remain objective in this regard for the time being.
10 Observe A Prosthetic Hand Built For Baseball
As baseball advances, so too does technology with better equipment, techniques and means of delivering the game to live and television audiences alike. The Baseball Hall of Fame houses one particularly interesting bit of rudimentary technology from the game’s history.
According to the Hall’s Facebook page, the early 1900s saw EL Blystone get in an accident involving a train that cost him his hand. The Hall of Fame houses the prosthetic hand that he used in game play when he returned to MLB. It’s not so impressive to look at from a 2010s perspective, though interesting if only for the way that Blystone and company worked out a way for him to play in that day and age.
9 Check Out Shoeless Joe’s Shoes
Shoeless Joe Jackson has one of the more unique monikers in professional sports history, and one that immediate raises question. After all, he didn’t play professional baseball in his bare feet, so why choose to label him as such? According to the Chicago Historical Society, Jackson got the nickname when he played a mill game and had to take off his cleats due to bad blisters. A fan noticed and heckled him as “shoeless,” which gave way to a nickname that stuck.
Interestingly, despite the nickname, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually does proudly display a pair of Shoeless Joe’s shoes.
8 The Heroes Of Baseball Wax Museum
Wax museums can be awfully kitschy little tourist traps in a variety of locations. However, for a true baseball fan who has made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, it can be worthwhile to make a stop at the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum, specifically dedicated to the sport and its legends.
The facility allows for some unique photo ops and a family friendly coda to visiting the Hall of Fame.
According to the Cooperstown website, the destination includes more than 30 wax figures and a virtual reality batting cage. It's definitely worth checking out while making the trip.
7 Meet Legends In Person
The Baseball Hall of Fame features enough special events each year that there no shortage of opportunities to meet a living, breathing legend of the game. This is even more true for anyone who visits at or around the time of the Hall of Fame inductions in July.
While there are autograph sessions and meet and greets at the Hall and at some surrounding businesses, special occasions can also entail unique opportunities to simply run into legends outside the context of waiting in line at a formal event. With the Hall of Fame inductions taking place at the end of July, that's certainly the perfect opportunity.
6 See What Has Changed
Visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame are typically impressed how comprehensive it is, and the volume of unique artifacts related to the sport. Another way in which the Hall appeals to its most devoted fans: it evolves.
Talk to someone who has visited Cooperstown more than once and years apart, or read reviews online, and the consensus seems to be that the curators do a fine job of updating the facility to switch out memorabilia, make use of technology, and incorporate more recent history. It’s a testament to how seriously the Hall takes the visitor experience that it never rests on its laurels, and gives repeat visitors plenty to keep an eye out for.
5 Visit The Records Wing
Baseball is a sport concerned with statistics. From its early days, devotees were committed to recording the numbers that make up a game, well beyond the final score. With that comes an interest in records like who hit the most RBIs or collected the most wins from the pitching mound.
“One for the Books” is a key exhibit at the Hall of Fame dedicated to record breaking moments in the sport and the stories behind them.
In addition to artifacts and replicas, this wing includes detailed stories to help contextualize some of the most impressive records accomplished in the game.
4 Listen To Who’s On First
Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” dialogue is a truly iconic comedy bit that transcends baseball fans to appeal to a wide swath of viewers. In the 1950s, the Gold Record for the recording of it was placed in the Hall of Fame.
Many Hall of Fame visitors have noted that “Who’s on First” feels like a soundtrack to their visit. For those who take the time to listen, it’s playing from a number of screens throughout the facility. Its old timey and familiar feel and can offer a welcome backdrop to those revisiting so much of baseball’s rich history.
3 Check Out The Sportscasters’ Hall
Since 1978, the Baseball Hall of Fame has awarded the Ford C. Frick award, honoring top broadcasters from the history of the sport.
While calling the game on radio or television may seem like a minor contribution relative to the actual players, visiting the part of the Hall dedicated to these parties can make visitors especially nostalgic.
After all, while players came and went, the best, most iconic broadcasters’ careers often lasted far longer and provided a familiar voice that sounds something like family to someone who listened faithfully. Heck, just look at Vin Scully, who called Dodgers games for 67 seasons.
2 Talk To The Staff
Like any business, the Baseball Hall of Fame is staffed by people who happen to live in the local area. A number of visitors note, however, that Hall staff is there for more than collecting a paycheck—they got their jobs and stuck with them because they legitimately love the game.
Particularly for the relative old timers staffing the space, fans have noted that they often have their own stories to tell or are, at the least, happy to get nostalgic with fellow baseball fans, and add to the Hall of Fame experience. You likely won't find many others who love the game more.
1 Track Down Favorite Legend’s Plaque
The Baseball Hall of Fame is nothing if not thorough, and one of the steadfast traditions of the facility is to honor ever inductee with an individual plaque, sorted by induction class. Some fans have criticized the sorting mechanism—that particularly before smart phones, it was a lot to expect of a fan to have to know the year his or her favorite was inducted, and it meant a lot of time wasted to go searching. Just the same, there’s also something to be said for walking amongst the names of so many legends, and being surprised by whom you’re reminded of while specifically seeking out someone else.