There’s one weekend every year when the eyes of the world are trained on our backyard. For as long as most of us can remember, the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction ceremonies have brought living legends to rub shoulders with fans every summer in the quaint intimacy of Cooperstown.
Every year, the village rises to the challenge of playing host to thousands of fans, journalists — oh yes, and world-class athletes. It’s a moment for all of us who live here to enjoy. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, it’s neat to be able to switch on the TV and see Cooperstown on one of the major news or sports networks.
So it’s a little uncomfortable this year to be in the limelight for an altogether different reason — one that could be subtitled, “What if they gave an induction and nobody came?” The ceremony that often draws more than 10,000 to pack the lawn of the Clark Sports Center this year drew fewer than 3,000 fans.
Insert here the collective groan of the merchants who rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
Make no mistake, the Hall and Cooperstown acquitted themselves beautifully. If a public relations department’s job is to make lemonade out of lemons, the Baseball Hall of Fame officials will squeeze the lemons by hand and serve you that lemonade in a crystal goblet on a cloth napkin. They’re that good.
But the headlines in the New York Times, ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated don’t say “Hall of Fame throws one heck of a nice party.” Instead, one word seems to keep coming up: Steroids.
We all knew the Steroid Era would make landfall in Cooperstown eventually, and that when it did, a year like this was possible. But this was really kind of a perfect storm.
Some naysayers have taken this year of lackluster attendance to presage the Hall’s demise. And given that the institution has been losing money for a couple of years now, it’s at least understandable that people are asking the question. But we’re not among them.
The truth is, there’s a really good chance that next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, will see fans returning to Cooperstown in more robust numbers.
There will be down years, maybe even as down as this one. And there will be banner years, such as the inevitable induction of Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. But it’s going to take more than a little rain and some poor attendance figures for us to start envisioning a future Cooperstown that isn’t synonymous with baseball.
The Hall may be down. But it is most definitely not out.