Record crowd electrifies Hall inductions
About 75,000 fans enjoy historic day for Gwynn, Ripken
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Visitors to the Clark Sports Center, Cooperstown's Hall of Fame induction site, passed through a gauntlet of bustling local industry: kids hawking lemonade, soda and candy on well-manicured front lawns, and lots open to the highest-bidding motorists (one sign demanded $370 for three nights' parking).
For locals standing their ground during the Sunday crush -- approximately 75,000 fans, by far besting a previous record of 50,000 in 1999, descended on the town of 2,000 for the free ceremony -- business opportunities were there for the taking.
Cars lined residential roads and sat uneasily on front lawns and gardens, next to an endless procession of pedestrians. At the site, an open field off the edge of town, the throng extended for miles.
According to security guard Ron Fowler, it is estimated that the field can hold 100,000 people. That's more than Camden Yards and PETCO Park combined.
To the eye, the field appeared filled. Officials made the final estimate by talking to multiple state troopers and viewing aerial photographs.
"It's overwhelming," said Fowler.
Many of the fans were bedecked in orange and black. They made their presence felt whenever Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne, who was called in to replace George Grande as master of ceremonies, introduced one of the six present inductees -- Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and, of course, Cal Ripken -- who played significant portions of their careers as Orioles.
"I don't think there's anybody left back in Baltimore," Thorne said. "They're all here."
Ripken fan Tom Williamson journeyed north from Winter Haven, Fla., to see his hero. Standing next to three other men whose T-shirts were emblazoned with bold, black digits, Williamson represented the number "2" -- the first digit in 2,632, the number of consecutive games Ripken played.
"I was at that game [when Ripken broke the record]," Williamson said. "I marked this on the calendar five years ago. When he retired, I wrote 'July 2007' up on the wall and had it there for the last five years."
The Padres fans were outnumbered. Gwynn, one of the sole players of his generation whose hometown popularity rivaled Ripken's in Baltimore, had the sole misfortune of hailing from the West coast. Still, the sea of orange and black was interrupted by clusters of gold and brown, the old Padres colors, and uniforms of the more recent navy-and-orange vintage.
Dick Znamirowski, Scott Elam and Bill Lindsay wore Gwynn's 1990s-era jersey after completing, like many others, the 3,000-mile trip from San Diego.
"For Tony," they yelled in unison.
"We've got to give him love," Elam said.
Added Znamirowski: "He gave San Diego 20 straight years of beautiful baseball. It's the least we can do to come and support him here."
Znamirowski, Elam and Lindsay sat in seats that had been held by friends since Friday evening. They arrived at the induction site at 7 a.m. ET on Sunday for the 1:30 p.m. ceremony.
Like residents and organizers, the Hall of Famers, too, felt the record presence. In his speech, Gwynn said he'd been told on the bus by fellow retired greats that the crowd surpassed the biggest they had "ever seen, ever."
"You didn't know if they were pulling our leg," Gwynn said afterward, at a post-induction press conference. "But they're saying, 'Oh my goodness, look at all the people up there on the hill.'"
"Overwhelming is [the only word] you can use," added Ripken, "because you look out and it's a sea of people. On a speakers' circuit it's a different thing. You always want to peek out a little bit before you go out on stage."
Former big-league catcher and 2003 Hall inductee Gary Carter instructed Gwynn to beat his nerves by looking over the crowd into the trees beyond.
"I was telling myself, 'Look at the trees. Look at the trees,'" Gwynn said. "I am so glad that part of the weekend is over. It's been great. [But] that's the toughest part."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.