EDITOR'S NOTE: WCPO is looking back on Ken Griffey Jr.'s life growing up in Cincinnati, stunning success and Hall of Fame career. See all of our coverage at WCPO.com/griffey. Watch Sunday's ceremony at 1:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network or www.baseballhall.org.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — It looked like Cincinnati Day here Saturday, as I ran across Reds jerseys with “Griffey” on the back everywhere I turned (although they were outnumbered by Griiffey-Mariner jerseys about five-to-one).
So, just to put a stamp on it, I arranged to take the photos Saturday inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame of Cincinnati residents Bob Crotty, owner of Green Diamond Gallery in Montgomery, and sculptor Tom Tsuchiya, who are big here: Crotty because he suggested and donated the “Character and Courage” statues of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente that grace the Hall’s lobby, and Tsuchiya because he sculpted the likenesses of Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza for the plaques that will be hung here in perpetuity.
I also liked seeing the signed jersey of Southgate, Kentucky’s own Jim Bunning, the sidearming right-hander, swaying in the light breeze at an outdoor memorabilia booth near Doubleday Field.
My favorite image was the father-son combination of Michael McNulty Sr. and Jr., of Tinton Falls, N.J., rocking the Piazza-New York Mets jersey and Griffey-Reds jersey.
They’re both Mets fans, but for McNulty Jr. in his youth, there was no bigger transcendent baseball star than Griffey Jr. of the Reds, although McNulty recognizes Griffey’s best years by far were in Seattle.
“For me it was the swing and the the whole hat-on-backwards’ thing,” McNulty Jr. said.
“When I was coaching back then,” McNulty Sr. said, “all the kids were trying to be like Ken Griffey Jr.”
“What’s cool to me about this weekend is you have the first overall draft pick (Griffey) and a 62nd round guy (Piazza) going in together,” McNulty Jr. said. “Nothing says ‘baseball’ better than that.”
McNulty Sr. and Jr. have been coming to Induction Weekend every year since 2006. They didn’t start out with the idea of making it into a streak, but every year McNulty Jr. has asked his father, “Are we goin’ again this year, Dad?”
“How can any father resist that?” asked McNulty Sr., smiling.
“We even came up that one year when nobody was elected,” he said. “They honored Lou Gehrig that year, because Lou had never been formally enshrined (with an induction ceremony). They got Cal Ripken involved in honoring Gehrig because Ripken had broken Gehrig’s ‘Ironman’ record for consecutive games played.”
It is this “Connection Generations” theme that is part of the mission statement of the Baseball Hall of Fame that Crotty believes in so deeply that led him to come up with the idea the character and courage statues. Crotty realizes greatness as a baseball performer is the essence of the Hall, but he recognizes that some athletes epitomize what is “true” greatness, transcending their sport to make their greatest impact as human beings. Think about it; their impact as human beings is how Gehrig, Robinson and Clemente are remembered.
When Crotty went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the idea for the statues, it was love at first concept because the Hall had already been thinking about wanting to represent the higher calling.
Tsuchiya, too, has been touched by the “connecting of generations” theme of baseball.
“Joe Morgan was my (late) father’s favorite player,” Tsuchiya said. “When I first came up here at the invitation of (National Baseball Hall of Fame president) Jeff Idelson, one of the first places I went was to check out the Joe Morgan plaque… One of the nice things about that plaque is that it is such a good portrait of him.”