Scenes from Cooperstown, where the game is always good

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Abner Doubleday, the game’s mythical inventor, did not in fact invent it. Baseball had been played in nascent forms long before 1839, the year in which Doubleday supposedly but not really invented the game. Baseball’s story did not begin in a cow pasture in Cooperstown. The myth is a false tune written by tycoons like Al Spalding.

They still play footsie with the myth in Cooperstown. There is a cafe on Main Street named after Doubleday. There is of course the ballpark there — Doubleday Field — two blocks from the Hall of Fame, on the spot that used to be Elihu Phinney’s farm. There’s still a barn there — it’s used to house maintenance equipment.

But the Hall doesn’t try to pull the wool over people’s eyes about baseball’s origins. It wouldn’t be much of a museum if it did. There’s a small display on the topic in the Hall that says, “Doubleday didn’t invent baseball; baseball invented Doubleday.”

No, baseball was not invented in Cooperstown. But it should have been.

Every summer, the village of less than 2,000 people swells exponentially with hordes of baseball fans, bearing the colors of every team in existence and even some that are no longer around. Every conversation on the street is about baseball. Every store is either selling baseball merchandise or servicing baseball fans.

The occasion, as always, is to recognize the newest members of baseball’s Hall of Fame. Every year is the same. Media conferences. A golf tournament. A parade. An afternoon of speechifying. The hanging of the plaques in the Hall. The rhythms are familiar, like the game itself. The only thing that changes are the names of those giving the speeches.5

“In a sense, he is here, and always will be,” 2018 Ford Frick Award honoree Bob Costas said of his late friend Dick Enberg. “That’s part of the beauty of the Hall of Fame. Like Dick Enberg in his category, the six we will celebrate [Sunday] become certified baseball immortals. They are eternal citizens of Cooperstown, an eternal part of the history of the game.

“Membership here isn’t for a lifetime — it’s for all time. And it’s part of baseball’s unique appeal that in some cases those enshrined here are forever linked with men they never knew: Cal Ripken with Lou Gehrig. Nolan Ryan with Walter Johnson. Hank Aaron with Babe Ruth.

“The richness of its fabric, the depth and significant unanimous of its history, the generational connections, they all set baseball apart.”

Those creating the newest links, the six Costas alluded to, are Alan Trammell, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. That became official on Sunday, when all six made their induction speeches at the Clark Sports Center, and, afterward, had their plaques unveiled back at the Hall of Fame, four-fifths of a mile down Susquehanna Avenue.

By its very nature, baseball’s Hall of Fame induction weekend is an exercise in nostalgia. Likewise, the Hall itself is a record of the past — a preservation, recognition and celebration of things that have already happened.

This stands in stark contrast to so much of what has been written and said about baseball over the past few months. Whether it’s about pace of play or defensive shifts or the rise of strikeouts or the downtick in attendance or the furor over whether the game’s best player should pound his chest more often, it’s come to feel like the discussion has been dominated by the idea that baseball itself is unraveling.