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What if they gave a Hall of Fame ceremony and no one came?

Baseball's Hall of Fame could play host to a ceremony this summer with no living inductees. Businesses in Cooperstown, N.Y., are worried.

January 08, 2013|By Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
  • Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa likely will be shut out of the Hall of Fame when the vote is announced on Wednesday.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa likely will be shut out of the Hall… (Associated Press )

This is the week we learn whether all the debate surrounding perhaps the most polarizing Hall of Fame election in memory comes down to a big fat zero.

Zero, as in no players elected.

For the first time since 1960, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and its Cooperstown, N.Y., hometown could play host to a ceremony with no living inductees.

As the Hall of Fame considers what might attract fans in the absence of any newly elected players, the merchants of Cooperstown brace for what could be a major financial hit.

The residue of the steroid era can fall in unintended places. The Legends Are Forever store, one of several baseball memorabilia shops crowded along the blocks adjacent to the Hall of Fame, does up to 15% of its annual business during induction weekend, owner Jeff Foster said.

On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America will announce the results of this year's Hall of Fame election. The headline candidates — Barry Bonds, the only seven-time most valuable player, and Roger Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner — are not expected to be elected by a voting body fractured over how links to steroid use should affect the Hall of Fame.

Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines are the candidates considered most likely to approach the 75% threshold required for election. The BBWAA elected one player last year, Barry Larkin, and has not elected more than two players in any year since 1999.

In 1996, the last time the BBWAA elected no one, the Veterans Committee selections included popular former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and pitcher-turned-congressman Jim Bunning. In 1971, the previous time the writers elected no one, the Veterans Committee selections included legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.

This year, the Pre-Integration Committee selected umpire Hank O'Day, New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and catcher-third baseman Deacon White. All three have been dead for at least 74 years, but representatives of their families will be in attendance in Cooperstown in July, and the induction ceremony will go on.

Those names will not draw crowds. With the possibility that the BBWAA might elect no one, the Hall of Fame is evaluating what activities might lure fans.

"If no one were to get elected, we might do some things to enhance the weekend," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said.

The induction weekend generally draws 15,000 to 20,000 fans, he said. In Cooperstown, a rural New York village of 2,000 residents, no player being elected to the Hall of Fame could mean local businesses not getting a crucial induction-weekend bump in sales, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patricia Szarpa.

"Everyone kind of gears up for that weekend," she said.

Of the 64 living Hall of Fame members, between 40 and 50 are expected to return for induction weekend, Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. The private festivities for those celebrated players — and the public appearances some might make — will help spur the local economy.

Szarpa also said Cooperstown Dreams Park, launched in 1999, has made the economy less dependent on induction weekend. The youth baseball facility welcomes about 20,000 players — and their families — for tournaments each summer.

Still, Szarpa said an induction weekend without living inductees — and without the fans who would follow them — would hurt the local businesses, at least in the short term. Hotel and restaurant bookings for induction weekend generally start within minutes of the election announcement, she said.

"For that particular week, it would have a huge impact," she said.

Idelson said he is not rooting for the BBWAA to spare him the agony of a sparsely attended ceremony by electing at least one player.

"You root for the process to work, and to work well, which it does year in and year out," Idelson said. "You want to have an honest election.

"How the election turns out is how history dictates it turns out."

Foster, the owner of the baseball memorabilia store, said not all electees are fan magnets. Some, like Cal Ripken Jr., draw huge crowds. Some do not.

But is Foster rooting for at least one player to be elected?

"Of course," he said. "That goes without being said."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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