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June 12, 2014

HOFers, big crowds came to Monday dedication in '39

Visitors flocked from far and wide, many arriving by car and train, some by horse and buggy, some by foot and still others by seaplanes that landed on Otsego Lake. 

Newspaper estimates put the number of tourists in Cooperstown on June 12, 1939 as high as 20,000, swelling six-fold the population … They had come – this late spring day 75 years ago – the attend the dedication of the National Baseball Museum and a major league exhibition game at Doubleday Field … They also had come to catch a glimpse of major leaguers like Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott and Dizzy Dean, as well as the 11 living members of the Hall of Fame – a lineup headed by the legendary Babe Ruth.

The christening proved to be the high point of a four-month-long celebration of Baseball’s Centennial that saw high school, college American Legion and professional games played at Doubleday. To ensure that the national focus would be on Cooperstown that day, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis decreed that no big league games be scheduled.

On that manic Monday, Cooperstown officially became the home of baseball’s history and soul – and remains so to this day. On that day, the village and the sport became synonymous.

By the time the ribbon-cutting ceremonies commenced – appropriately with the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” shortly after noon – more than 4,000 people had shoehorned into the limited space in front of the dignitary stand on the steps leading to the museum’s entrance. The throng included several major leaguers who had spent their own money to journey to Cooperstown to take in the festivities. Many of them carried cameras and extra baseballs they had purchased from local vendors for $.50 apiece in hopes of snaring autographs from Ruth, Ty Cobb, Connie Mack and the eight other living Hall of Famers scheduled to take part in the ceremonies.

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