Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

July 25, 2013

Baseball shrine facing declining attendance

By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is open year-round, but the majority of business is done in the summer months when tourists flock to the village.

The biggest fan fest is during Induction Weekend, which will begin Friday. However, there is skepticism about how many people will attend since the baseball writers threw a strikeout on the election ballots. According to organizers, the focus will be on creating as much excitement as possible.

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said, “We’ve turned the weekend into a New York centric theme, which should be appealing to baseball fans throughout the state.”

The nonprofit organization has an even bigger problem that goes beyond the weekend, however; it has been facing gradual declines in attendance rates throughout the years. Last year, only about 260,000 visitors came to the museum — the lowest attendance since the mid-1980s.

According to Idelson, attendance has mirrored the economy. He said as the economy has down turned, cultural institutions, among many others, suffer equally.

The Cooperstown museum is not alone. It is among several sports halls of fames where attendance has been sagging in the past few years. Museum professionals have credited the reasoning to exhibits that aren’t interactive enough, weak online presences and image problems stemming from players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“In this day and age, the state of the economy, gas prices and the viability of the region in which you exist are all important factors; as is the health of the sport. Thankfully the health of our sport today is strong, and that is a positive indicator moving forward,” Idelson said.

Induction Weekend does not have a massive impact on attendance numbers at the baseball shrine, according to Idelson. However, he said a good Induction Weekend certainly helps give it a “little bit of boost.”

The Hall of Fame president said staff continually has an eye on adjusting its business model to ensure that it remains viable and he believes the overall depth of programming is good and it helps that they run year-round.

New this year is a two-year temporary exhibit called Diamond Mines. The exhibit is featured on the museum’s second floor and has a searchable database of thousands of scouting reports donated to the Hall of Fame throughout the years by hundreds of scouts. Through Diamond Mines, museum visitors are able to enter the name of a big league player and search for scouting reports filed on them throughout the years.

“We’ve added so many new exhibits in the last five or six years that we feel that the museum has a very fresh look and feel for those who haven’t been here for four or five years,” Idelson said.

Idelson said he is optimistic about the future as the organization gears up for its 75th anniversary next year with a commemorative U.S. coin and special music entertainment featuring the Boston Pops.

As far as the weekend goes, he said: “As it is every year, Hall of Fame Weekend is first and foremost a celebration of the new inductees and we do have three, although none of them are living. So the focus for the weekend doesn’t change.”

“Because we have no living inductees, we have embellished or stepped up other events to encompass the weekend to make it enticing for visitors to travel and enjoy Induction Weekend,” he continued.

This will mark the first induction since 1965 that no living person will be enshrined. On Sunday, the Hall of Fame will induct three “Pre-Integration Era” members, former New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O’Day and 19th-century player Deacon White.

The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will also pay tribute to 12 individuals previously counted among the Hall’s roster of members who never had a formal induction. Honorees will include BBWAA electees Lou Gehrig (1939) and Rogers Hornsby (1942), along with the entire class of 1945 selected by the Committee on Old Timers: Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Hughie Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke and Wilbert Robinson.

With Yankees Gehrig and Ruppert, and New York native White, there is hope for a strong local turnout for the ceremony.

When the ballot was released in January, Senior Director of Communications and Education Brad Horn said there is a favorable regional slant this year.

“I think that we also have good inductees. Jacob Ruppert built Yankee Stadium and bought Babe Ruth’s contract. Hank O’Day umpired 10 World Series, which is still a record, and was one of the foremost arbiters in the National League. Deacon White was a 19th-century player who played every position and caught barehanded as a catcher,” he continued.

Saturday’s awards ceremony will feature the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award to writer Paul Hagen, the posthumous honoring of former Blue Jays voice Tom Cheek with the Ford C. Frick Award and a salute to the work of Legendary Entertainment CEO Thomas Tull, whose company produced the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” and Dr. Frank Jobe, whose groundbreaking surgery on pitcher Tommy John has evolved into a game-changing medical procedure.

Forty or more Hall of Famers are expected to return for weekend festivities. The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held, rain or shine, at 1:30 p.m. at the Clark Sports Center and will be shown live on MLB Network. The Awards Presentation will at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Doubleday Field.

The Hall of Fame will honor the 75th anniversary of Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?” and the 125th anniversary of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem “Casey at the Bat” with a pre-show program before the Awards Presentation at 3:30 p.m. Admission is free and gates will open at 3 p.m.

The Awards Presentation will be immediately followed by the Parade of Legends, as Hall of Fame members ride down Main Street in trucks provided by Ford Motor Company at 6 p.m., concluding with a red carpet arrival on the museum steps for a private reception.

Additional programming, both at the museum and at Doubleday Field, is planned. For more information, visit http://baseballhall.org/.