By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Call it COVID fatigue.
Shocking as it may have been at another time, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s announcement last week that this year’s July 25 Induction Ceremony will be broadcast on TV by the MLB Network, that’s it, has been largely accepted in Baseball Town.
What was expected to be record-breaking crowds cheering superstar Derek Jeter on the Clark Sports Center fields into the Hall of Plaques has turned into a so-far unspecified number of people in an unspecified venue.
The word of the week is “disappointed,” sometimes followed by a “but.”
“While the village is disappointed,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, “I think the Hall of Fame made a wise – and probably the only – decision they could make.”
“To say it’s disappointing is an understatement,” added Jeff Katz, Friends of Doubleday president (and former mayor), “but not a surprise. I’d be surprised if anybody was shocked.”
“I had no illusion that they were going to have a normal Induction Weekend,” said Mickey’s Place proprietor Vinnie Russo, dean of the baseball merchants. “I was surprised, however, by what the decision was. We’re still 5½ months away.”
“At some point,” explained Hall President Tim Mead, “we had to make a decision to look at something that’s viable.” The Hall’s board of directors met locally last week and endorsed this one.
In making the announcement Friday, Feb. 12, Hall board Chairman Jane Forbes Clark pointed to a positive: Induction 2021 that will happen in Cooperstown.
“There was no desire to take the event out of Cooperstown,” Mead said in a follow-up interview. “It’s where it belongs. When you arrive at that conclusion, the options become somewhat limited.”
Depending on what happens in social distancing and other guidelines between now and July 25, arrangements will be adjusted, he said. However, “the flexibility will be within the venue we’ve chosen,” he said. “We will not have an outside event.”
“I don’t think anybody thinks that by July we can assemble 67,000 people,” he said.
Mead said he is “not at liberty to discuss” the particulars of the TV presentation, but did say “it’s going to have a different look, but the same structure.” It will be “unique,” and it will seek to enhance “the magic of ‘Cooperstown.’”
Since last year’s Induction was cancelled, and the Baseball Writers inducted no one this year, the ceremony will celebrate the Class of 2020: Jeter, slugger Larry Walker, labor organizer Marvin Miller and switch-hitter Ted Simmons.
Broadcasting, sports writing and other awards will also be presented.
Russo, who has assembled sales data since the early 1990s, estimated the Jeter weekend would have more than doubled a typical weekend’s gross in downtown stores.
“My business model is 365 days a year. We have a decent e-commerce business as well,” said Russo. For a business that is open “only 100 days, closed all winter long, it will be far more impactful.”
The Hall’s announcement came as the state said 100,000-capacity venues can operate at 10-percent capacity. If the Clark Sports Center field had a 55,000-fan capacity, it could host 5,000, he reasoned.
“I just don’t understand the rush to make this decision,” he said, “at this point, everybody is looking to do things outdoors.”
For his part, Katz said, “If vaccinations have occurred enough, and if mid-summer can be some kind of return to socialization, maybe Friends of Doubleday can hold some sort of ‘watch party.’ It’s not the same. It’s the players that bring people here.
“But if there’s a lift in social gatherings, we should make something of it.”