At a time when gatherings of even a handful of people are officially frowned upon, the thought of packing 50,000 or more into the tiny hamlet of Cooperstown, New York for a weekend of festivities is downright unthinkable, even nearly three months from now. Thus it was no surprise that on Wednesday, the Baseball Hall of Fame officially announced that its board of directors had voted unanimously to cancel this year’s Induction Weekend events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Less than two weeks ago, Forbes Magazine’s Barry Bloom had reported that a decision would be reached by the first week of May, at which point it was all over but the official word.
Thus 2020 BBWAA honorees Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, Today’s Game honorees Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, Spink Award winner Nick Cafardo, Frick Award winner Hawk Harrelson, and Buck O’Neil Award winner David Montgomery will all be honored during next year’s Induction Weekend. Via the Hall’s announcement:
“Induction Weekend is a celebration of our National Pastime and its greatest legends, and while we are disappointed to cancel this incredibly special event, the Board of Directors’ overriding concern is the health and well-being of our new inductees, our Hall of Fame members, our wonderful fans and the hundreds of staff it takes to present the weekend’s events in all of its many facets,” said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “We care deeply about every single person who visits Cooperstown.”
“In heeding the advice of government officials as well as federal, state and local medical and scientific experts, we chose to act with extraordinary caution in making this decision,” Clark continued. “The Board of Directors has decided that the Class of 2020 will be inducted and the 2020 Award Winners will be honored as part of next summer’s Hall of Fame Weekend, taking place July 23-26, 2021.”
If you’re wondering about the honorees’ reaction to the understandable disappointment, the living ones weighed in favorably. Again via the Hall, here’s Simmons, who’s been waiting for this honor since inexplicably failing to receive even 5% of the vote on the 1994 ballot, and Jeter, who came within one vote of becoming the second candidate in as many years to be elected unanimously:
“It’s clear that cancelling this year’s Induction Ceremony was the appropriate decision,” said Class of 2020 Hall of Fame member Ted Simmons. “I commend the Board for making this decision under these difficult circumstances, particularly in New York, a state severely hit by the pandemic. This was the wisest and smartest thing to do, given the existing environment and the danger that this pandemic presents.”
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame will be an incredible honor, but the health and safety of everyone involved are paramount,” said Class of 2020 Hall of Fame member Derek Jeter. “I respect and support the decision to postpone this year’s enshrinement and am looking forward to joining current Hall of Famers, fans, staff and my family and friends in Cooperstown in 2021.”
The cancellation is an understandable move in light of the circumstances, particularly given the elevated risk of illness to the returning Hall of Famers themselves. As Rollie Fingers told the New York Times‘ Tyler Kepner the other day, “You’ve got guys my age there — 73, 74, 75, up to 80 or 85. Do you want to take that chance on maybe catching it? You’re writing your own ticket then.”
Given the election of Jeter, this year’s crowd 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. This is the first time since 1960, when the BBWAA failed to elect anybody and the Veterans Committee was in an off-year, that there will be no induction ceremony.
Next year’s ceremony will be the first since 1949 to combine multiple classes of honorees, and the delay could actually prop up what might have been a comparatively sparse weekend, attendance-wise. Of the returning candidates on the BBWAA ballot, Curt Schilling (70.0% on the 2020 ballot) is the only likely honoree, particularly given the longstanding resistance to Roger Clemens (61.05) and Barry Bonds (60.7%), and none of the newcomers (a group headed by Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Torii Hunter) are likely to clear even 5% of the vote.
Both the Early Baseball and Golden Days Era Committees will meet at the December Winter Meetings to vote, but many of the top candidates for election, including pioneer Doc Adams and shortstop Bill Dahlen from the former group, and Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso from the latter, are deceased. Historically speaking, such inductions don’t tend to draw as many visitors. The Class of 2013, which due to a shutout by the BBWAA consisted only of three Pre-Integration honorees who had been dead for at least 75 years plus the Spink and Frick Award winners, drew just 2,500.
The loss of Induction Weekend will hit the Cooperstown area hard given the loss of tourist dollars. The cancellation follows that of the Cooperstown Dreams Park’s 2020 season, which was expected to bring over 500,000 people to the region for tournaments involving 1,000 travel teams of players 12 and under from all 50 states.
I’ll have more about the cancellations and their impact on Cooperstown in the near future.
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.