Wonder if Deacon White had a very big family. How about Jacob Ruppert or Hank O’Day? Last summer when Barry Larkin (living) and Ron Santo (posthumously) were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame an estimated 18,00 spectators sat under a hot sun in a field a few miles across town from the Hall of Fame building for the ceremony. On the stage were 40-something Hall of Famers as witnesses.
Probably the most unhappy people in the universe about Wednesday’s announcement that the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to vote in any modern era players are the merchants of Cooperstown. Hall of Fame weekend is the biggest stretch of good business days in Cooperstown. The downtown of the small town in upstate New York is overwhelmed by baseball shoppers who wish to schmooze with Hall of Famers signing autographs and buying souvenirs of the national pastime. But next July? Forget about Christmas shopping, the hobby shops and memorabilia stores will probably seem more like Christmas day–closed for lack of interest.
The Hall of Fame has its work cut out to try to make induction weekend a special occasion. There are more than 60 living Hall of Famers out of the 300 that have been elected since 1936 and for many it is a special time visiting Cooperstown again and spending time with their brethern in the game. Make no mistake, being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame is a special club
The cornerstone of the weekend, despite dinners and golf tournaments, is the induction itself and welcoming new members into the club. However, many of those gentlemen are aging. Many of them make the trip despite ailments. It’s very easy to see them skipping it. Last year fans came by the busload from Chicago to pay homage to Santo and from Cincinnati to honor Larkin. Cooperstown honors a baseball writer each year and a broadcaster, too, which is nice, but they are accompanied by their families. They don’t bring in the masses. The problem is there will be no guest of honor.
Yes, the Veterans Committee approved White, Ruppert and O’Day, but White retired in 1890 and died in 1939. He in no way resonates with the modern-day fan, so his induction will not be a crowd generator. Ruppert owned the New York Yankees, but he also died in 1939. O’Day played, but he was chosen for his contributions as an umpire. If there is a Hank O’Day Fan Club I have lost the address.
Hall of Fame officials have already announced that previously selected Hall of Famers that missed out on a formal induction ceremony because of war-time restrictions in the 1940s will be honored at the 2013 event. This list includes Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Roger Bresnhan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Hughie Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke and Wilbert Robinson. That’s nice, too, but they are also dead.
The Hall of Fame is going to have to be extraordinarily creative to assemble a program that will bring a respectable crowd to town. Maybe something like a massive testimonial dinner for all living Hall of Famers who will mingle with fans? Otherwise, instead of holding the ceremony in a vast open field, it may be conducted in the Grandstand Theatre in-house where a hundred people at a time watch the museum’s regular welcoming film each day.