He was at the inaugural event June 12, 1939, snapping candid photographs of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Walter Johnson.
The longtime Cooperstown resident then attended 64 of the next 67 inductions, including in 2017, when he was 99 and a resident of an assisted-living facility.
He was easy to spot at the Clark Sports Center, handing out business cards bearing reproductions of his photos, and wearing a sign around his neck that said, “I was at the first induction.”
But when Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell enter the Hall on Sunday, Osterhoudt will not be there. He died in June at 100.
“We were all hoping he’d make it to this year’s,” said Cindy Falk, the village’s deputy mayor, a friend from a local Baptist church who visited Osterhoudt during hospice care. “It was so important to him.”
Osterhoudt’s son, Darrell, and Darrell’s wife, Priscilla, who live in Virginia, will attend in his place.
“We’re going to keep up the tradition, but I don’t know for how long,” Darrell Osterhoudt said by telephone.
Homer Osterhoudt’s devotion to the induction ceremonies was not because of a love of baseball. He was, at best, a casual fan without an allegiance to a particular team. But he felt like he was part of the Hall because, as a young man, he helped build it. In 1937, Osterhoudt was hired as a laborer with the Bedford Construction Co. and kept working on the Hall through the winter of ’38.
“We set up a cement mixing machine in front of the post office on Main Street,” he recalled in 2008 during an interview for an oral history program at the State University of New York, Oneonta. “We carted, wheelbarrowed cement over to the foundation across the street for the Hall of Fame. After they got the foundation done, they put up the building sides with concrete blocks and then bricks.”
When the hall opened its doors to the first classes of inductees in 1939, Osterhoudt roamed the village taking pictures of them (and other major leaguers) as they arrived, marched in a parade, gathered on a platform in front of the Hall for the induction and played a game at Doubleday Field.
“It was quite an event for Cooperstown,” he said in the oral history.
Osterhoudt’s snapshots provide a more kinetic view of the events that day than the famous group portrait of 10 of the 11 living inductees (except for Ty Cobb, who was late).
From Osterhoudt’s amateur camera emerged images of Ruth delivering his induction remarks, Dizzy Dean warming up for the game at Doubleday Field and Wagner signing an autograph at the local train station. He also captured Hank Greenberg striding down a village street while fans tried to keep up with him, Cookie Lavagetto and Stan Hack carrying flags in the induction parade, and Johnson leaning over from the induction platform in front of the Hall to sign his name to autograph books and programs.
After serving in the Army Air Forces in the South Pacific during World War II, Osterhoudt married Marion Potter, worked as a mail carrier for more than 30 years and served his church and the Boy Scouts. In retirement, he delivered meals to the elderly.
“He just thought that’s what you do: you live in a community, you get involved in things,” Darrell Osterhoudt said. “That was just his philosophy. He didn’t think it was unusual.”
And he continued to attend nearly every induction. Sometimes he asked Hall of Famers like Ozzie Smith to sign his pictures of them. In 1989, he donated scores of his pictures from 1939 to the Hall, and was later invited to attend an annual discussion at the Hall that commemorates the first induction.
“He was a happy guy who loved the Hall of Fame and the people who came to it,” said Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall. “He realized the impact he had on people who loved the game more than he did.”
Brad Horn, a former public relations executive at the Hall, added, “He was the ultimate living Cooperstown attraction, always with a smile and a story.”
At the induction four years ago, Osterhoudt reflected on the unexpected fame that longevity had brought him.
“Everybody wants to take my picture and wants my autograph,” he told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel of West Virginia. “I guess I am a celebrity. At least that’s what they say.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Richard Sandomir © 2018 The New York Times