By ERIC AHLQVIST
The Baseball Hall of Fame turns 69 today, and will host its final Hall of Fame Game on Monday, and no one has been more of a fixture at those games than Cooperstown’s Homer Osterhoudt.
Osterhoudt was a 21-year-old laborer on June 12, 1939, when the Hall of Fame officially opened and held its first Induction Ceremony, which was followed by an exhibition game featuring 31 National and American League stars. The first class of electees included baseball immortals Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
``I wasn’t really a baseball fan until that day,’’ said Osterhoudt, an amateur photographer who always carried his camera with him.
``The games gave us a chance to get to know the players and I really enjoyed watching them in action. The players used to dress at the Clark gym, which was on Main St., and then they’d walk around town and talk with people.’’
Howard Talbot, who was just out of high school in 1939 and would later be president of the Hall of Fame, said ``I would say it was the biggest event in Otsego County history to that date.’’
Catherine Walker, a lifelong Cooperstown resident who was eight-years-old in 1939, said Ruth was the main attraction.
``In those days the players would get off the train and walk to Main Street, and when Babe Ruth came walking through all the children just gravitated toward him,’’ recalled Walker, who after retiring from teaching has worked at the Hall as a greeter for a number of years. ``I remember my brother had this old brownie camera, and he was mad because he had to carry Ruth’s suitcase so he didn’t get any photos.’’
But Osterhoudt did, taking several photos of the Bambino as he strolled down Main Street and also on Doubleday Field posing with Mathewson and Johnson. ``It’s a lot different now when they bus them right to the entrance of the field,’’ he said.
The recent exception was Baltimore’s Cal Ripken, Jr. who impressed Osterhoudt when he and the Orioles played in the Hall of Fame Game a few years ago. ``He stood there and signed autographs for hours,’’ Osterhoudt said.
Osterhoudt, 90, hasn’t missed an Induction Ceremony or Hall of Fame game since 1939, except for four years when he was in the service from 1941-45. He’ll be at Monday’s game as well, which will also mark his 62nd wedding anniversary to wife Marion.
He donated copies of his treasure- trove of old black-and-white photos from June 12, 1939 to the Hall of Fame recently, but is philosophical about Monday’s game, which will feature the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs, being the final one.
``I’ve looked forward to it every year, but life changes and you just have to deal with it,’’ said Osterhoudt last Friday. ``You could kind of see the handwriting on the wall for the last few years after they split the game from the Induction Ceremony.’’
Kristian Connolly, a Cooperstown graduate, has been more proactive since hearing of the Game’s demise in January. He started the website savethefamegame.com, and has been devoting much of his spare time to trying to do just that over the past six months. Connolly said this week that his mission is far from over.
``The campaign exists to reverse the decision to end the playing of the Hall of Fame Game, and the campaign doesn’t end on June 16, 2008,’’ he said. ``It ends when Major League teams and/or players play a game after June 16, 2008. The message that I want to get out to people this weekend is pretty simple:
‘Don’t let Major League Baseball and the Players Association get away with ending a Cooperstown, American, and baseball tradition that has existed since 1940. Stand up to their corporate interests and selfish desires and remind them why the Hall of Fame Game is a positive for the sport (and for them), and a tradition worth saving.’”
Hall of Fame spokesman Brad Horn said on Tuesday that while there has been no indication that MLB will reverse its decision, the museum is committed to replacing the game, and every possible option is or will be explored in the coming months.
``Nothing is off the table,’’ he said in regard to finding a replacement. ``Our immediate focus is making sure fans have a meaningful experience at this year’s game, and then we’ll start discussing possible concepts. It’s too early to talk specifics, but it’s safe to say there will be a replacement.’’
By ERIC AHLQVIST
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