Baseball maven Stanton’s sentimental The Final Season (2000) earned him an invitation to speak during induction week at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here, he recounts that event—and a lot more.
It was in 1972 that 11-year-old Tom first began badgering his father to take him and older brother Joey to Cooperstown, New York, because “our team,” the Detroit Tigers, was in a dogfight for the American League pennant. The recurrence of their mother’s brain tumor and subsequent surgery, however, put the trip off indefinitely. After that, Stanton recalls, “We were always going to go there sometime, but the sometimes ran out.” Some 29 years later, however, Tom gets the call and invites Dad—now in his 80s but still capable of reciting entire genealogies of Tiger players—to drive out from Michigan along with Joey. The journey begins and ends with random but vivid flashbacks triggered by each Stanton in turn, as Cooperstown becomes an allegory for anticipation. Baseball is the theme, of course, but the author uses affinity for the game as a matrix for probing the male bond, belatedly comprehending the vast depth of parental love, examining the roots of pride and accomplishment, and even expiating (then resurrecting) sibling rivalry. As they tour Cooperstown’s museum, nostalgia and myth bubble up, interweave, and are sometimes amended: Babe Ruth, it turns out, was not an orphan; Abner Doubleday was away at West Point around the time the game was perfected; Ty Cobb actually wore sheepskin sliding pads! Homeward bound, the Stantons’ constant gentle banter on who best remembers what really happened eventually subsides into tacit realization that this, their first-ever overnight trip together, is also their last.
How baseball turns boys into men, and vice versa, considered with feeling and a bittersweet edge.