By JENNIFER HILL & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Induction 2019 was notable for what didn’t happen as much as did.
One, the folks who didn’t collapse from the heat.
A violent storm late Saturday broke the humidity that created a steamy high of 88, making way for much drier Induction Day Sunday, July 21, with highs in the low 80s and a slight breeze keeping the Induction crowd feeling more comfortable than expected.
Two, the parade that didn’t happen.
Due to a pending thunderstorm that didn’t happen (until later), the Hall cancelled what’s become a weekend highlight: The Parade of Legends. Still, as most the Hall of Famer stayed enclosed in the cabs of pickup trucks as they rolled down Main Street past thousands of fans, Johnny Bench, 71, hopped out and walked the distance, and other stars followed suit as 25 Main neared.
Three, the attendance record that wasn’t broken.
While the crowd of 55,000, as reported by the Hall, was 3,000 more than last year’s class that included Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, it still fell significantly short of the 2007 Cal Ripkin Jr./Tony Gwynn 82,000 record.
Moving that many people in and out of a village of 1,769 without incident over four days emboldened Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch to say, “Everything went very smoothly.”
The six inductees included the first one every elected unanimously on a first ballot by the Baseball Writers Association Of America, Mariano Rivera, the closer for 17 of 19 season with the New York Yankees.
The three other Inductees chosen by the BWAA ballot were Edgar Martinez, going in as a Seattle Mariner, and Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay, not designated on the plaque by team since each played for two franchises. Halladay’s wife, Brandy, delivered a speech on her husband’s behalf.
Two other Inductees were chosen by the Today’s Game Era Committee: Harold Baines, a Chicago White Sox, and Lee Smith, a Chicago Cub.
Rivera, born in Panama, shared his star turn with Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, Panama’s president since July 1 on his first trip outside the country since his swearing-in.
Also in the audience was Derek Jeter, Rivera’s teammate who, it’s generally accepted, will be inducted in 2020 – perhaps the second MLB star elected unanimously in his first year of eligibility. Together, both men played on five Yankee World Series championship teams.
To combat the heat, the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department set up a large air-conditioned tent with misting fans by the Clark Sports Center so people could cool off.
That likely prevented more heat-related incidents from occurring than did, said Fire Chief Jim Tallman.
As another precaution, “we had fire departments” – over 100 EMTs in all – “at strategic sites throughout the village and around it, so we could access places without worrying about crowds,” he said.
“Hall of Fame takes a lot of planning, setting up, and breaking down,” he said. “Everyone deserves a big sigh of relief that nothing major happened.”
In two months, Tallman said, planning on 2020 will begin, and Mayor Tillapaugh credited that process for smooth implementation.
Law-enforcement agencies – from the Department of Homeland Security to state police to the county Sheriff’s Department – take the lead, but the village was represented at regular planning meetings by Village Administrator Teri Barown, DPW Superintendent Mitch Hoteling and the Village Police Department’s senior office, Jim Kehlman, she said.
This was the first year the $4,000 computerized trash receptacles were in place on Main Street during the Legends parade, and all went as anticipated.
“We lock the plate on top of the containers, so no one can put anything in them, such as a backpack or a package,” said Cooperstown’s Public Works Superintendent Mitch Hotaling. “We emptied all the containers just before the Hall of Fame parade and locked all the plates on them.”
Sure, some overflowed. “You never have quite enough containers,” said Hotaling, “but it went pretty well.”
When Saturday’s parade was about to begin, severe thunderstorms were expected, so Tillapaugh said it was “the right decision” to cancel, even though the sun had broken through again by 5:10.
Still, she said, Johnny Bench, Rivera and the others – Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Pedro Martinez – “saved the day by being out there with their doting fans,” jumping out of the pickups they were riding in when the sun broke out, shaking hands and signing autographs for people in a crowd that was 10-12 rows deep by the time it reached 25 Main St.
Regardless, “we’ll have a little briefing” with Barown, Hotaling and Kehlman in the next few weeks to review the events and see how things might be done better, the mayor said.
President Cortizo arrived in Cooperstown at 11 a.m. on Sunday, with a group of 17 people that included family members, government officials, his staff members, and VIPS.
Cortizo and his entourage went to The Otesaga, where he “interacted with Mariano Rivera” and ate brunch. The president then went to Induction, joining other Panamanian visitors in waving their flag and cheering their countryman.
A high point of the afternoon was the much-praised speech by Brandy Halladay on behalf of her husband, whose died when the amphibious aircraft he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico in 2017.
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” she said. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments.”