- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thursday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame began its 75th anniversary celebration in Cooperstown, New York, the small, Norman Rockwell-like village where the Susquehanna River begins, the home of the Hall of Fame since 1939.

It seems like the perfect setting for baseball shrine — a postcard of small town America. It’s hard to think of the Hall of Fame anywhere but Cooperstown.

But 17 years before the doors opened there, the plan was to build a baseball Hall of Fame right here in Washington, D.C.

According to a Sept. 22, 1922, Associated Press report, baseball planned on building a $100,000 monument to the game in East Potomac Park and a baseball hall of fame to go along with it:

“George H. Sisler of the St. Louis Browns, generally rated as the greatest first baseman in the major leagues, tonight was awarded the American League Trophy offered by club owners as a reward to the player who proved of greatest service to his team during the 1922 season.

“Sisler’s name will be the first inscribed on the $100,000 baseball monument to be erected by the American League in East Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., and presented to the Government as a memorial to the national sport and a hall of fame for perpetuating the memory of its greatest players.”

Those plans fell through, and baseball probably found its rightful place in Cooperstown 15 years later. But lately it has been under attack by the cheated generation, whose fraudulent heroes are on the outside looking in.

Critics want to see the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the rest of the cheaters who left a trail of either confessions or evidence that they paved their path to Cooperstown through deception.

There will be no mention of the cheaters in this 75th celebration weekend. Cal Ripken will help host a slate of programs about the history and tradition of baseball — including the opening of a new exhibit to pay tribute to one of the game’s greatest sluggers who hit more than 700 home runs during his career.

It will be the second exhibit at Cooperstown to honor such a slugger who hit 700 home runs during his career.

Neither one of them is named Barry Bonds.

If Bonds and the cheated generation haven’t gotten the message yet, they should now with the opening of “Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend.”

The Ruth exhibit will take its place alongside “Chasing the Dream” — the exhibit honoring the life and career of Hank Aaron.

The exhibit for the one who holds the career home run record, arguably the most cherished mark in baseball? The ball Bonds hit for his 756th home run — with an asterisk branded into it.

The predictions of the demise of the Baseball Hall of Fame because of the absence of some of the biggest stars of the steroid era have been greatly exaggerated. Attendance has been down at Cooperstown in recent years, and the cheated generation has claimed it is because there are no plaques for Bonds, Clemens and the others in the Hall — as if visitors show up for that.

The facts are that attendance is down industry-wide at sports museums. Attendance has dropped dramatically at the Pro Football Hall of Fame during that same time. Is that because of the lack of acceptance of steroid cheaters as well?

I also might want to point out that despite the powerful machine that is the National Football League, visitors at the Baseball Hall of Fame are generally twice as many annually.

The cheated generation has pointed to the lack of high-powered figures elected to the Hall of late — especially last summer, when not one living member was inducted.

That’s about the change dramatically next month, and for years to come.

Large crowds are expected to flock to Cooperstown for the induction next month of such baseball legends as managers Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, and players like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

It will likely continue next year when Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson are eligible; 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr., is on the ballot; 2018, when Chipper Jones becomes eligible; then the two super years come up — Mariano Rivera in 2019, and, if Derek Jeter does retire this year as expected, he will follow in 2020.

People will continue to come to Cooperstown — just as they have been for 75 years now.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com