Cooperstown resembles Tinseltown
Celebs, ex-big leaguers attend annual Hall of Fame ceremonies
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- In past years, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown has attracted tons of popular television and movie personalities. And it was no different this year, as the 2007 Hall of Fame class of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn attracted Hollywood's A-list to the small town in upstate New York.
Noted actors John Travolta, Richard Gere and Kelly Preston, Travolta's wife, attended Sunday's sun-drenched ceremony at Cooperstown's Clark Sports Center. In addition, 1970s icon Lynda Carter, who starred in the television show "Wonder Woman," came for the weekend's events. The Hollywood contingent formed a small, but highly noticeable part of the approximately 75,000 fans that packed the large fields for the induction of Ripken and Gwynn.
Travolta and Preston came to Cooperstown because of their friendship with Ripken and his wife, Kelly, who have developed a strong kinship with the Hollywood set. Ripken first met Travolta several years ago when the actor visited Camden Yards to perform a special presentation of "Grease."
"We've been great friends," said Travolta, who sported sunglasses and a black-and-gold baseball cap while wearing a Navy blue sports coat during the afternoon ceremony. "The family loved 'Grease.' When he broke [Lou Gehrig's] streak, they wanted me to come and celebrate with them, but I couldn't make it. So years later, here I am for something even greater, his induction."
Travolta offered high praise for Ripken, whose character is generally praised throughout baseball.
"He's the greatest human being I've ever met," said Travolta, who has never starred in a baseball-themed film but is one of the stars of the 2007 hit film "Hairspray." "I'm honored and privileged to be here."
On Saturday night, Travolta hosted a private party at Cooperstown's Hoffman Lane Bistro, a quaint restaurant located only a block from the Hall of Fame and Museum.
In addition to the Hollywood presence, the induction ceremony also drew more than its usual share of former Major League players, despite the weather being uncomfortably warm and humid.
Several of Ripken's former Baltimore Orioles teammates sat in the VIP section at the ceremony, including his younger brother and former double-play partner, Billy Ripken, who was discussed prominently during the elder Ripken's induction speech. The Ripkens played together with the Orioles from 1987-92 and again in '96.
Other ex-Orioles at the ceremony were Brady Anderson, whom Ripken referred to as his "best friend" during his induction speech, along with Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton, both of whom played with Ripken on Baltimore's 1983 World Series championship team. The crowd also featured former Orioles teammates Joe Orsulak, B.J. Surhoff and onetime standout left-hander Mike Flanagan, who is currently an executive vice president with the Orioles. Flanagan's current boss, Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, also attended the afternoon ceremony.
Though overshadowed by the large contingent of Ripken well-wishers, Gwynn had his baseball-world supporters, as well, including his son and younger brother, who were both mentioned during Gwynn's induction speech. Tony Gwynn Jr. was recently sent down to the Minors by the Milwaukee Brewers, but he was already given permission by the organization to attend Sunday's proceedings in Cooperstown. The elder Gwynn's brother, former big-league outfielder Chris Gwynn, also attended. Former San Diego Padres standout Steve Garvey, a key component of the 1984 National League pennant-winning Padres team that starred Gwynn in right field, also took up residence in the VIP section at the ceremony, as did longtime Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman.
In addition, current Padres general manager Kevin Towers lent his presence, despite the task of dealing with the imminent July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Current Padres owner John Moore also attended and was mentioned by Gwynn during his induction speech.
News and notes: Several former Major Leaguers were in Cooperstown over the weekend, primarily to participate in autograph signings along Main Street, but they were not seen at Sunday's induction ceremony. They included two of Gwynn's Padres teammates, Rich "Goose" Gossage and Graig Nettles.
Other former big leaguers such as Paul Blair, Ralph Branca, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Denny McLain, John "The Count" Montefusco and Pete Rose also made themselves available for Main Street signings, but they reportedly left town before Sunday's induction.
There had been rumors earlier in the week that several other notable actors, including Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, would also attend the weekend festivities, but none were seen at the induction nor at any Cooperstown establishments.
Bruce Markusen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.