Step Up to the Plate
Photo:
Dan Liebman
Executive Editor
Several years ago, during my first visit to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for the race meeting and Fasig-Tipton sale, I took a day and drove through the countryside to Cooperstown.

There, I was a kid again as I walked through the town and entered the baseball Hall of Fame. I stood and watched as a man in his 80s, walking with his son and grandson, spoke of his trips to Ebbets Field.

I harkened back to my youthful excitement at the mere mention of Crosley Field, much less the nearly two-hour car ride to that sacred ball field in Cincinnati. My father's passion was twi-night doubleheaders, when we would arrive early enough for a walk to Izzy's deli downtown and still have plenty of time to get to the stadium for every minute of batting practice.

Standing in the Hall of Fame, thoughts of my brother and sister and me came flooding back--how we marveled at the outfield terrace and countless All-Star plays by the likes of Vada Pinson, Leo Cardenas, Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion, Lee May, Tony Perez, Don Gullett, and Jim Maloney. It was there--and later Riverfront Stadium--I witnessed the skills of the best ballplayer I have ever seen.

So it was in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown I sought out the plaque of No. 5, a man named player of the decade in the '70s. I wanted to recount Johnny Bench's many batting achievements, his 10 Gold Gloves, and the percentage of batters he threw out on stolen base attempts.

I passed the man who remembered Ebbets Field and thought of how baseball transcends generations.

Imagine a fan of racing 30 years from now walking through the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. He stands in front of the plaque of D. Wayne Lukas and sees that the trainer was one of the best in the game. He also sees that his stats are only through 1999, the year he was inducted. Lukas has trained the earners of more than $240 million. Suppose he hits $300 million? No one would ever know.

A Hall of Fame is the recorder of the statistics, information, and data about the greatest to ever participate in its sport. But the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has a problem it needs to fix. Plaques need to be updated once a trainer or jockey retires or dies.

There is an inherent difference between racing and such major sports as baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. The players in those sports are all retired when they are enshrined; most of racing's greats are not.

This year, trainer Shug McGaughey and jockey Kent Desormeaux were inducted. Five days after the ceremony, Desormeaux won the Arlington Million (gr. IT), but his, and McGaughey's activities in racing were frozen in time by the Hall of Fame that inducted them.

Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson recently died; his plaque doesn't mention he won the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) with Volponi. Johnson not only trained the colt, but he and his family owned and more importantly to many of us, bred him as well.

There are 83 jockeys and 78 trainers in the racing Hall of Fame, officials of which say it cannot afford to update the plaques. At a cost of about $400 a plaque, this comes to $64,400, Many don't need updating; other cannot be updated yet because the conditioners and riders they celebrate are still working each and every day.

People in racing are known for constantly stepping up to the plate to help worthy causes. Someone needs to step up and establish a fund to be used solely for updating Hall of Fame members' plaques at the National Museum of Racing. A gift, or gifts, of $100,000 would more than get the job done.

Future generations of racing fans will appreciate it.

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