Rock and Roll Hall of Famers visit Cooperstown
By Jeff Idelson
One of the great strengths of the Baseball Hall of Fame is its universal appeal. Even though we are a Museum dedicated to baseball, fans of American history will invariably visit because one can’t begin to fully appreciate Americana without seeing baseball’s imprint.
Those who travel to Cooperstown do so as a pilgrimage – we’re not exactly a place you can stumble upon. Once in a great while, visitors will “just happen to be in town for other reasons” and a Museum visit becomes a secondary undertaking.
Such was the case Friday when music icons and 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Crosby, Stills and Nash came to town to play a concert at legendary Doubleday Field, the fifth concert ever at the famed venue. Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson got the ball rolling in 2004. Others to have performed include Paul Simon, The Beach Boys with Herman’s Hermits and Dylan, a second time.
Prior to the show, led by three decade-long tour manager Mike “Coach” Sexton, the entire band sans David Crosby, came to visit the Museum. Arriving in golf carts two hours before sound check were Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, along with drummer Joe Vitale, base player Bob Glaub, their newly-anointed organist, and pianist James Raymond — David Crosby’s son.
They spent 90 minutes touring the exhibits and 30 minutes in archival collections. The tour ended with a trip to the photo library so Nash, a well-known photography collector, could have a look at the Library’s famed collection. “Too short of a visit,” lamented Stills after the tour.
While touring, I learned that Vitale was born in Canton, Ohio, and went to high school with Thurman Munson. “Is he in the Hall?” asked Vitale. When told he wasn’t, he responded: “He should be.”
Stills and Nash loved the Museum and were fascinated with its history. “Ahhh, Mickey Mantle – my first hero,” recalled Stills in the Yankees of 1950s exhibit on the Museum’s second floor. “I loved the Mick, but I am a Red Sox fan. I threw out the first pitch during their run to their first championship and that baseball is one of my prized possessions.”
In archives, Nash, who played cricket in Blackpool, England as a youngster, picked up one of Hall of Famer George Wright‘s cricket bats, circa 1890. He was intrigued to learn of Wright, the only person in history to play Major League Baseball (Boston and Providence) and First Class Cricket (Longwood Cricket Club of Chestnut Hill, Mass.).
Cricket matches are renowned for being seemingly-endless, as they can last for days. I asked Nash if cricket reminded him of acoustic Grateful Dead concerts, which were could also last for hours. “You may have a point there,” he said laughing.
I explained to both musicians the definition of a five-tool player (hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field) and asked if music had any. “Prince. Definitely Prince,” said Nash. “He can probably play five instruments.”
When I asked Stills if he could go back in time which player he would meet, he answered without hesitation, Satchel Paige. “B.B. King told me that watching Satchel Paige pitch was like watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar. They were both legendary.”
The band thanked Hall of Fame curators Erik Strohl and Tom Shieber for arranging the tour and then headed back to Doubleday Field. After the sound check at 4:30 p.m., the three rock legends posed in Hall of Fame jerseys – as one Hall of Fame honored legends from another: Crosby, Stills and Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and are about to enter the Songwriters Hall of Fame (the three are also in the Harmony Hall of Fame). Nash was so appreciative, he opened the show wearing his new garb.
For the photo shoot, to tie music and baseball together even more closely, we brought the bats of three players with which the three musicians posed: Crosby with a Babe Ruth bat, Stills with a Lou Gehrig bat and Nash with a Joe DiMaggio one.
“What a thrill,” said Nash. “What a thrill.”
Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.