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July 16, 2011

HOF predicts a big induction weekend

By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau

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COOPERSTOWN _ Next weekend in Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will induct former star players Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar and former general manager Pat Gillick.

A crowd is expected and merchants said they're hoping for a boost to what some say has been a lackluster first half of the summer.

Blyleven, 60, a pitcher known for his curveball, played for the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels while amassing 287 victories.

Alomar, 43, a second baseman with the San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, was an excellent hitter and fielder, winning 10 Golden Glove awards.

The players were selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Gillick, former general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies, was tabbed by the Hall's Expansion Era Committee.

According to Ted Hargrove, who owns T.J.'s Place on Main Street, the Expansion Committee would have helped local business by adding the late George Steinbrenner's name to those who will be honored.

Steinbrenner, the former New York Yankees owner who died last year, remains a popular figure from a nearby metropolis, Hargrove noted.

"The streets would be full with Steinbrenner on the program," he said Wednesday, as a lunch time crowd filtered in and out of his restaurant and memorabilia shop.

Hargrove said business was brisk in June, but dropped off sharply in the first half of July.

"And if it's this slow in July, it doesn't look good for the rest of the year," he said.

Across the street at Legends Are Forever, owner Jeff Foster said he also thinks Steinbrenner would have been a nice addition to the program.

"I don't think Steinbrenner would have changed the summer, though," Foster said. "We really haven't recovered from 2008 yet.

"People are much more conservative about what they're going to buy, and probably they should be," he said.

Worries about jobs, spending, and rising prices for essential goods and services have made potential customers hesitant about discretionary spending, Foster said.

"It's not just in Cooperstown; it's everywhere," he said.

In 2007, keeping his business stocked was a primary concern, Foster said. Now he's focused more on selling what's already on display.

Susan O'Handley, executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, said she's looking forward to a strong induction weekend.

"We're holding our own here, and when you look at the big picture, the economy, the price of gas, that's a good thing," she said. "This is a great place for a family to go on vacation."

Internet inquiries on the Chamber's website bode well for a good-sized crowd on induction weekend and a good second half of summer, she said.

Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said attendance at the shrine this year has been about on par with last year, and last year was not a bad one.

"We're looking forward to a great weekend, and our bus count indicates we'll have a good crowd," he said.

Idelson noted that Steinbrenner was not selected for induction this year by the Expansion Era Committee, but that doesn't rule him out for future consideration.

Next weekend's schedule of events includes a session of playing baseball with Ozzie Smith and other Hall of Famers starting at 8 a.m. Friday, a parade down Main Street featuring Hall of Fame players starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, and the induction ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Clark Sports Center.

For a complete listing of events, see the Hall of Fame's website.