While this year’s Induction Weekend festivities have been postponed until next summer, on Wednesday the National Baseball Hall ofdat Fame and Museum announced plans to reopen to the public on Friday, June 26, after nearly 3 1/2 months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reopening is being done with a comprehensive health and safety plan in place, one that includes mandatory mask wearing, timed entrances to limit capacity and allow for physical distancing, widespread availability of hand sanitizer, increased cleaning and disinfection schedules, and the continued closure of the building’s larger gathering spaces. All of this is being done in accordance with New York State’s regionally-focused phased reopening plan, as the Mohawk Valley (which includes Cooperstown) moves to Phase Four.
While New York has been hit the hardest of any state by the novel coronavirus, with over 390,000 conformed cases and over 30,000 deaths according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the impact in Otsego County, which has a population of 62,000 with Cooperstown as its county seat, has been comparatively minimal, with just 74 confirmed cases and five deaths as of June 22, including only 12 confirmed cases and one death in the six weeks since I covered the virus’ impact on the region in early May.
Despite the minimal number of cases locally, the cancellation of Induction Weekend — which, with Derek Jeter as the marquee attraction was expected to exceed last year’s estimated 55,000 attendees and perhaps even eclipse the all-time record of 82,000 from 2007, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were honored — has hit the area hard, particularly as it followed the cancellation of the Cooperstown Dreams Park series of youth baseball tournaments, which annually bring over 17,000 youth players (and their families) to the region. As of early May, the estimate for the economic impact on local governments via lost sales taxes on the area’s restaurants, hotels, rental properties, and baseball-oriented shops stood at $50 to $150 million.
According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York On PAUSE directive, regions such as the Mohawk Valley must meet certain benchmarks before they can move on to various phases of reopening. Phase Four’s reopening guidelines cover zoos, nature parks, historic sites, museums, and aquariums. As with other types of establishments that have reopened in earlier phases, masks and adherence to social distancing protocols are required, and new recommendations have been introduced, including online ticket purchasing and efforts to reduce bi-directional foot traffic.
When I spoke to Hall president Tim Mead in early May, he said that he and his staff had kept busy researching best practices for the eventuality of receiving guests when the museum could reopen, considering things like markings on the floor for the purposes of maintaining distancing, and figuring out which interactive areas could safely be reopened. Per the Hall’s press release, Mead said, “Members of our staff have worked tirelessly to prepare and enact plans that will allow us to open our doors. Throughout this process, the health and well-being of our staff and our visitors has remained paramount.” The Hall has developed its comprehensive health and safety plan “in accordance with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State.” The plan has been “reviewed by a certified Industrial Hygiene Technician, to ensure cleanliness, physical distancing and reduced contact for both visitors and staff.”
Assuming that the region does officially move to Phase Four on June 26, the Hall will be open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, admitting visitors who purchase timed admission tickets (which can be bought up to 45 days in advance) from its website on a first-come, first-served basis so as to alleviate congestion in the lobby and throughout the museum. Masks will be required, with single-use ones available for free for visitors who do not have one, and each guest will receive a rubber-tipped stylus to use when interacting with touch-screens and buttons within the Hall’s exhibits. Ample directional markers, hand sanitizing stations, and signage reminding visitors of safety procedures have been installed. Large gathering spaces including the Grandstand Theater, Bullpen Theater, and Sandlot Kids’ Clubhouse will remain closed. Per Hall Vice President of Communications and Education Jon Shestakofsky, the Giamatti Learning Center, the institution’s library, is closed to walk-in visitors but open to research appointments made at least one week in advance.
The museum is performing daily health screening assessments and temperature checks of all employees and has adjusted schedules and spaces to accommodate physical distancing, including staggered arrivals and departures. The museum area and offices are being cleaned and disinfected with increased frequency, and the admissions desk and checkout counters at the museum store now have protective shielding.
The impact of the reopening could be blunted at least somewhat by a joint decision by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut mandating 14-day quarantines for visitors from states with high COVID-19 infection rates the number of infections per 100,000 residents on a seven-day rolling average), which as of today include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (the states will be updated daily). As none of those states is a close drive from Cooperstown, however, the effect of that decision may not have much bearing on the Hall or the region. And while we won’t get to celebrate the inductions of Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker this summer — they’re scheduled to be inducted on Sunday, July 25, 2021, along with any honorees from this year’s election cycle — it’s good to know that the plaques and other exhibits will once again be open to the public, and that hard-hit Cooperstown can begin salvaging some of its tourist season.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.