More joy came to Mudville this week, as the three talented baseball players — Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker — who were elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020, journeyed to Cooperstown for their COVID-delayed, toned-down inductions. Marvin Miller, the first director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who died in 2012, was also inducted.
Cooperstown is a unique place for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Unlike the sites of other athlete-based halls of fame, our village is tiny, with a four-block Main Street (sporting innumerable baseball shops), one stoplight (severely enhanced of late), a plethora of crosswalks begging to be trampled upon and a population in the range of 1,700 (save the summer influx). Although it does have a smattering of excellent cultural institutions — The Farmers’ Museum, Fenimore Art Museum, The Glimmerglass Festival, The Smithy, The Cooperstown Art Association, The Cooperstown Summer Music Festival — some sporting international attention — and outdoor attractions, baseball is the focus of the tourist trade; the Hall of Fame lures a solid 260,000 fans to the village each year.
The first class of players was inducted into the then-non-existent Hall of Fame in 1936, and it wasn’t until June 12, 1939, that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened in its present spot on Main Street. That year the 10 living inductees from 1936 to 1939 came to Cooperstown to take part in the celebration, making speeches, sitting for photographs, interacting with the crowd and hailing the beginning of the now well-established annual festivities.
Induction Weekend, as it has been called since that day, was, until 2020, an event that brought in thousands of roaring fans to ogle and cheer as the inductees received their plaques, to beg for autographs, and to change, at times even burden, our quaint village with their four-day presence, throwing the national pastime into the national spotlight. It was good for business, good for baseball, good for the fans, and usually, but not always, good for Cooperstown.
But last year, with COVID raging, Induction Weekend was cancelled, and the class of 2020 had to accept a postponement — for 409 days — of the big event. The 100th anniversary celebration of the opening of Doubleday Field, also scheduled for 2020, was postponed as well, and the Hall of Fame Classic has not been played in 2020 or 2021. It was a sad time in Mudville.
But wait. This year, this week, over two midweek days, the 2020 class was inducted, under the tent as usual, at the Clark Sports Center. The sun shone, the temperature was perfect, and 31 of the 72 living Hall of Famers (there are 333 plaques in all) returned to our little village to witness the glory of it all, along with myriad media and, of course, a substantial, adoring crowd.
As has been the case in the many past four-day Induction Weekends, Cooperstown was back to normal within hours of the end of this mere three-hour ceremony. The streets were clean, the traffic was back to local meandering through the village, the no parking signs were gone, the sidewalks nearly empty, the dogs finally asleep.
We owe a monster debt of thanks to Cooperstown’s mayor, Ellen Tillapaugh, and to the village staff, the highway department, the police department, the fire department, the ambulance and emergency services, the Sheriff’s department, Otsego County and the State Troopers for their concern, care and hard work to persevere throughout the deluge and return to us our tiny village.
We owe even more to Chair Jane Forbes Clark and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, whose masterful orchestration of this nationally important event has once again exceeded our expectations.