A tough year for the National Baseball Hall of Fame is about to get tougher. Tuesday’s announcement of the Class of 2021, determined late last year by eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, could net no new electees.
The top three candidates on the ballot are the most controversial in history: Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. All of them are either just at or a shade below the requisite 75% for election, with about 41% of the publicly revealed ballots aggregated. Last year, 397 ballots were filed, and based on that rate of return there are still 234 to be counted by the BBWAA and its outside accountants Tuesday.
Recent history has shown that support has plummeted for these candidates when the full population of BBWAA ballots are counted. Voters are not obliged to disclose their ballots and the names, as many as 10, they select. The announcement is scheduled at 6:15 p.m. ET Tuesday via MLB Network.
New class or not, Hall president Tim Mead said in an exclusive interview Friday that the Class of 2020, headlined by Derek Jeter, will be inducted. Last year’s event was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“There will be a ceremony one way or another this year,” Mead said.
The candidacies of Bonds and Clemens are shadowed because of their association with the steroid era during which they played. Schilling has been scrutinized for his post-career antics and outspoken political opinions. After this vote, all three will have one more year before their 10-year eligibility on the writers’ ballot runs out. This year was supposed to be their best chance, considering the dearth of first-time contenders. In the public vote, Bobby Abreu is at the top of that group with just 13%.
It won’t get any easier as another duo of controversial candidates—Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz—become eligible for the first time in the Class of 2022. After that, the candidacies of Schilling, Bonds and Clemens will be subject to the 16-member Today’s Game committee.
Considering that the votes of the Golden Days and Early Baseball veterans’ committees were postponed by the Hall last year because of the coronavirus, this could be the first time since 1965 the red-brick edifice on Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y., fails to have any new inductees. The decision to cancel those committee meetings caused a huge kerfuffle when Dick Allen died in December, only a day after the Golden Days group was originally supposed to gather and discuss his Hall of Fame case.
“I think the Hall has had a very challenging time since April,” Mead said. “In a way, we’re just a reflection of our hardships in this country. It’s just tough to fathom what’s transpired.”
With the sudden and unexpected death of the great Henry Aaron on Friday, 10 major Hall of Famers, from Tommy Lasorda to Lou Brock to Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver, have been lost since Al Kaline passed away at 85 last April 6. In a 15-day period this month, Lasorda, Don Sutton and Aaron died.
The list of 10 is a who’s who of the baseball fraternity and leaves only 72 living of the 333 with plaques in the Hall, 263 of them players. Willie Mays, at 89, is the oldest remaining.
It’s been a tough year financially for the Hall, too.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Hall of Fame museum had to close for 15 weeks just after Major League Baseball delayed the start of the season and shut down the remainder of spring training on March 12. When the Hall reopened it was at one-quarter capacity to accommodate New York State’s health and safety protocols. Accordingly, attendance plummeted from 275,000 in 2019 to about 50,000 last year, and revenue went with it.
“Certainly when your attendance is down a large part of your revenue is down,” said Mead, who declined to itemize the loss suffered by the Forbes family, which founded the museum and runs it as a non-profit organization. “But I don’t think we found ourselves in any different position than a lot of businesses across the country, non-profits or otherwise.”
The Hall’s net income dropped from $12 million in 2017 to $4 million in 2018, according to the last years of available tax documents. About 90% of that revenue is drawn during the summer months.
The late July induction ceremony for last year’s class of Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller was canceled, costing the Hall and the village an anticipated crowd of 100,000—the largest for induction weekend in the Hall’s history—and all the associated business.
Regardless of what happens with Tuesday’s vote, a ceremony of some kind still has to happen to recognize that group of inductees, but don’t expect anything that might accommodate 100,000.
Despite all this and the shuttering of baseball dream camps for the summer, former Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said Saturday most businesses on Main Street have survived a lost season and are in winter hibernation mode with snow falling and temperatures in the teens this past weekend.
“I haven’t heard of one major restaurant in town closing,” said Katz, who retired as mayor in 2018 and has since worked on the project to redevelop local Doubleday Field and its grandstands. “Business right now is 30-50% of usual. That gets you to the summer. If another summer is canceled, and there’s no induction ceremony, I don’t know. This year, fingers are crossed.”
Mead insisted Friday there will be an induction ceremony in the Coop. Whether it will be the last Sunday in July, or moved to the fall when a greater mass of the population is vaccinated, is still to be determined. Whether it’s on the pastures behind the Clark Sports Center as per usual or elsewhere in town—indoors or out—is also under consideration.
“There’s a lot of planning to this and tough calls that have to be made early,” Mead said. “We will have an induction, but we have to explore options because the uncertainty is there. We can’t be any more clear today than we were a week ago. Everybody right now is planning with options, and we certainly are falling into that category, as well.”