No Joy in Cooperstown Again, as Hall of Fame Induction Festivities Cancelled

The good news is that the Hall of Fame will host an induction ceremony in 2021. The bad news is that it won’t be open to the public, and that just about everything else in connection with the Hall’s annual festivities has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic for the second year in a row. The institution announced as much in a press release on Friday:

“Though we are having to cancel our 2021 Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, the Hall of Fame is maintaining its commitment to hold an Induction Ceremony on July 25,” said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “We had hoped to be in a position to welcome loyal baseball fans back to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend, but with the continuing uncertainties created by COVID-19, the Board of Directors has decided not to hold Induction Weekend ceremonies at the traditional Clark Sports Center location. We have prepared alternative plans to conduct our annual Awards Presentation and Induction Ceremony as television events taking place indoors and adhering to all of the required New York State guidelines.”

Induction Weekend was scheduled to take place July 23–26, with the big ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, the 25th. Instead, it will be broadcast live on MLB Network that day beginning at 1:30 pm ET.

Though nobody was elected from the 2021 cycle — the BBWAA voters pitched their first shutout since 2013, while the Early Baseball and Golden Days Era Committees had their meetings postponed — last year’s honorees did not get their moment in the Cooperstown sun. Thus, the Hall is making arrangements for Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and whoever will represent the late Marvin Miller (it’s complicated) to receive their plaques and give their speeches via an indoor event that will adhere to all of the required New York State COVID-19 guidelines. Jeter and Walker were elected via the 2020 BBWAA ballot; Simmons and Miller were chosen via the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

The festivities won’t be the same without the dozens of living Hall of Famers in attendance for the ceremony and Saturday evening’s Parade of Legends down Main Street. But that group has been hit hard in the past year, and the increased risks of travel and exposure aren’t worth it even if some have begun receiving vaccinations. Where there were 38 living Hall of Famers 70 years old or older when the institution announced last year’s postponement, that number is down to 28, as 10 have died since then; from that group, Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, and Phil Niekro were in attendance in 2019.

Anyway, prior to this year’s induction ceremony, a separate Awards Presentation will also be broadcast, honoring two years worth of winners. Ken Harrelson (2020) and Al Michaels (2021) will receive the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, while Nick Cafardo (2020) and Dick Kaegel (2021) will be honored with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Career Excellence Award (formerly the Spink Award). Alas, Cafardo is being honored posthumously, as he died on February 21, 2019. Former Phillies owner David Montgomery will be honored with the 2020 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, also posthumously, as he died on May 8, 2019.

Separate from the Induction Weekend festivities, the Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, which was scheduled to take place on May 28 and 29, over Memorial Day weekend, was also canceled. Gone are the Classic Legends Game, which features appearances by Hall of Famers as well as players representing all 30 teams, a Night at the Museum meet-and-greet event, and other activities.

All of this is a huge bummer, particularly given pre-pandemic expectations that the crowd to see Jeter inducted would exceed even the 55,000 who came in 2019 to watch Mariano Rivera and his classmates receive their plaques, and perhaps challenge the record of 82,000, set in 2007 when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted. Such a crowd would have given the region a real shot in the arm after last year’s cancellations of Induction Weekend and the Cooperstown Dreams Park season, which annually brings over 17,000 youth players for a series of weekly tournaments over the course of the summer. Estimates of the economic impact of those closures on the area’s restaurants, hotels, and rental properties as well as the baseball-oriented shops on Main Street ranged from $50 million to $150 million. Last year was the first time since 1960 that no induction ceremony was held, that because neither the baseball writers or the Veterans Committee elected anyone.

The sad irony of all of this is that from a public health perspective, Cooperstown, whose population of year-round residents is less than 2,000 people, has managed relatively well through the pandemic. According to the Otsego County Department of Public Health, the region of about 60,000 people has reported just under 3,000 total COVID-19 cases and 47 deaths in 2020 and ’21. That said, with 917 cases and 28 deaths so far just six weeks into the new year, the area has experienced a surge similar to that of the rest of the country, though thankfully the case count is already less than half of what it was three weeks ago.

For as severe as the economic hit of the Hall’s cancellations and postponements has been, the institution has been laudably proactive when it comes to its scheduling, avoiding a wait-and-see approach or one with clearly elevated risks for a large (but smaller than usual) number of people. Last year’s postponement announcement was made on April 29, nearly three months ahead of Induction Weekend, while this year’s announcement is more than five months in advance. Hopefully, as more people are vaccinated and warmer weather allows for more outdoor activities, the spread of the coronavirus will ebb enough that the area can at least reap the benefit of some tourist traffic; the Hall itself, which closed for 3 1/2 months last year, is open at reduced capacity with timed-entry ticketing. Here’s hoping that fans can still find their way to the storied hamlet on their own this year, and that the normal schedule of activities for the region resumes in 2022.





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.

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Mike NMN
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Mike NMN

Sad, but with the potential of being a super-spreader event, an older audience to start with, and an older-aged set of previous inductees, probably the right thing to do.

bglick4
Member
bglick4

I hear you, but is there any reason to believe all high risk people who want to be vaccinated won’t be vaccinated by then?

We’ll have half a season of baseball in at 25% or greater capacity. If we can watch people play we can certainly watch them get inducted. A scaled back in person induction ceremony could certainly be done safely or, at least, no more unsafely than a baseball game at 25%.

Smiling Politely
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Member
Smiling Politely

Yes considering that in CA, there aren’t even enough vaccines for 75+ (and won’t be for awhile)

drewsylvania
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Member
drewsylvania

Have you *seen* how badly Cuomo has been botching things this year?

Daclubbies
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Member
Daclubbies

Cuomo not the only one to blame. It started at the top No Federal plan coordinated with mishmashed state plans. Theres a ton of blame from the top to the bottom of America (everyday citizens included) Our country has a giant communication and accountability problem. Hopefully the entertainment industry survives

bglick4
Member
bglick4

Well yeah, so a cynic might say that because of Cuomo, there are fewer high risk people in New York. But, seriously Cuomo’s past idiocy has no bearing on this. It will be more determined by the state’s ability to disperse the vaccine and New York ,so far, has been just a touch below average here. Maybe it won’t be safe by then, but we’ll know better closer to the time. They should have waited to cancel.