BY CHARLIE M. HOLMES
While the residents of Cooperstown went off to work or were attending to their daily lives this past Monday, the foundation for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony stage began to be laid on the grounds behind the Clark Sports Center.
When passing by Clark earlier in the week one might not have noticed anything. Even though the most important parts of the stage were already going up, one couldn’t really see that from a distance. Today, though, the stage will really start taking shape, and in a few hours it will appear as if it sprang up out of the ground on its own. That’s the literal foundation, but the real foundation for Hall of Fame weekend, the figurative one, began to be put down last year.
“Our staff is so good about recognizing what is working well, what needs to be adjusted, even to the smallest detail, throughout the weekend.,” Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said. “Then starting on Monday we’ll begin to put together debriefing meetings, and while everything’s fresh in our heads, begin planning for the following year.”
Considering that the first induction ceremony took place 73 years ago it would be tempting to believe that there was a template that the HOF used every year, but that’s not exactly correct. Idelson says that the HOF adjusts its plan depending on who is coming in and in order to stay relevant.
“Hall of Fame weekend has evolved many, many times from our first one in 1939,” Idelson said. “The boilerplate from ‘39 is not the same as today. Just as the boilerplate from two years ago is very different than it is today.” In the past two years the HOF has added a couple of new events.
“We added a Saturday awards presentation, which didn’t exist until last year,” Idelson pointed out. “We added a Main Street parade. And then some of our smaller events with Hall of Famers interacting with the fans have changed.”
Idelson says that the HOF is always looking for ways to make the Hall of Famers accessible to their fans, but they also try to give the Hall of Famers time to enjoy the event, too.
“This is more of a family event, not only for visitors, but for the Hall of Famers as well,” Idelson pointed out. “Virtually all of them that have extended families bring [their families] with them to share that multigenerational experience as the fans do. So you also have to give them some time to enjoy their family in Cooperstown.” The Hall of Fame guest list runs somewhere between 400 to 700 people every year.
In order to house that many people the Hall of Fame takes over The Otesaga Resort Hotel and The Cooper Inn starting at noon the Wednesday before Hall of Fame weekend, and they also rent several houses from local residents. One of the houses they rent every year is The White House Inn Bed and Breakfast owned by Edward and Marjorie Landers.
“This is my wall of fame,” Ed Landers explained looking up at dozens of autographs that grace one wall of his foyer. “I attempt to get the inductee to sign the wall. Now, the inductee and his wife would stay at the Otesaga, but mom, dad, sister, brother, kids, grandkids, etc. – they would take this over. And so this would then become headquarters for the family, and they would all meet here.”
Before who will end up at The White House Inn, The Otesaga, The Cooper Inn and other places around town is determined, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has to pick who will be inducted into the HOF.
“Once a player’s career has concluded, as long as the player has played at least 10 major league seasons, he has to wait five years after his retirement to become eligible for consideration for the Hall of Fame,” Idelson said. “If he gets 75 percent of votes on ballots cast [by BWAA], so if someone doesn’t return a ballot it doesn’t harm him, he gets elected.”
Idelson announces the inductees for the year on the MLB network in early January at the same time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s chairwoman, Jane Forbes Clark, and the secretary treasurer for the baseball writers’, Jack O’Connell, are placing the calls to the players to tell them that they made it in. So what does a player get once he has been chosen to be inducted into the HOF?
“They leave here with a couple of really nice relics,” Idelson commented. “One is their Hall of Fame ring and the second is a miniature version of the plaque.”
Matthews International, a company based in Pittsburgh, Pa., starts developing the plaque in January or February. After an image is selected an artist etches it into clay and the public relations department at the HOF crafts the words that will appear on the plaque.
Before the final okay on the plaque is given the etching and words pass through several phases to ensure that they represent the player as accurately as possible. The clay plaque is then fired in a kiln and the finished product is sent to the HOF, arriving a couple of weeks before Hall of Fame weekend. The players aren’t the only ones who have special items made for them. The fans can also take home a limited edition induction bat.
“It’s manufactured by Louisville Slugger. It has been since the beginning,” the vice president of retail marketing and licensing at the Hall of Fame, Sean J. Gahagan, explained. “We do a 1,000 run every year. We made one exception with the Cal Ripken induction class where there was such a demand for more. We did 2,000 that year. We start pre-selling them in February/ March and people can either have them shipped directly to them or they can pick them up here on Saturday morning of induction weekend.”
Those who order the bats during the pre-sale have the opportunity to select their bat number and will receive the bat in early July, if they chose to have it shipped to their home.
The 100 to 200 bats that are not sold in advance are available to be purchased at the Hall of Fame during induction weekend. The bats go on sale Saturday morning at 7 a.m.
The induction bats are a popular collector’s item, but the most popular collector’s item, according to Gahagan, is the plaque postcard.
“When people start getting into town on Friday they start asking us when is this year’s induction class card going to be available,” Gahagan said. “We don’t sell those plaque postcards until the inductee actually sees their plaque when they’re on stage at the ceremony. They actually don’t go on sale until sometime Sunday afternoon, usually around 2 p.m.”
The HOF limits the cards sold to 50 per person and makes the cards available at the induction ceremony site as well as at the museum.
When heading to the induction ceremony, there are a few things to keep in mind. Parking at Clark Sports Center is reserved for people involved in working the ceremony.
“It takes so many individuals to have that event run smoothly that many of them need access to the site with their vehicles,” Idelson explained. “All the guests are brought in by bus, and of course, we arrange and pay for shuttles for visitors if they don’t want to walk.”
The local high school students will be providing hot dogs, soda, water and Coke products at Clark Sports Center during the ceremony and on the grounds of Doubleday field during the awards presentation.
The money raised during induction weekend goes towards activities such as senior prom, senior trip and senior breakfast, according to Cooperstown High School principal Michael Cring.
The majority of the expenses that arise during Hall of Fame weekend are paid by the Hall of Fame, including the expense for the state and county police, port-a-potties and clean up at Clark after the event.
Mayor Jeff Katz said the expenses that the village of Cooperstown incurs are fairly small and mainly go toward paying for extra police officers and extra garbage pick-ups.
“The induction crowd really kind of reveres Cooperstown and the scene,” Katz pointed out. “It is a really respectful baseball crowd.”
When asked if there had ever been any problem during past Hall of Fame weekends Katz couldn’t think of any in his time with the village. The Public Works Superintendent, Brian Clancy, who grew up in Cooperstown, could only think of one.
“The outfield fence got painted with something a few years ago,” Clancy said. “That was back when the Gulf war started,” The field manager at Doubleday Field, Joe Harris, recalled. “It said, ‘no missiles of mass destruction’ and something about Bush. They spray painted it in blue paint on the fence. We had to very quickly paint the fence green. It was a wooden fence in the outfield by the scoreboard.”
Because of that incident, Harris said the security guards are required to walk the field more than they did back then. So how does Hall of Fame weekend effect the Village of Cooperstown overall?
“It’s kind of like that time to shine up your windows. Get ready, big, big day,” executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, Pat Szarpa, said. “The induction is almost like the benchmark.
Everyone is gearin’ up, gearin’ up, gearin’ up and then whoosh there’s this massive event. It still rides high after that, you know, as far as peak season goes and so forth. Starts to dip maybe mid-August.”
The benefits of Hall of Fame weekend extend beyond the local businesses, too.
“Our kids are very, very lucky that we have the partnership with the Hall of Fame,” Cring said. “It helps them do a lot of really neat special things for their senior year.”
“It’s a great event,” Mayor Katz said. “We get to some degree to be Cooperstown for the world by having it, and that’s important.”
BY CHARLIE M. HOLMES
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