For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers Association of America elected no one to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — raising concern in Cooperstown over how the lack of a major drawing card at the annual Hall of Fame weekend will impact the local economy.
Cooperstown Village Mayor Jeff Katz said he believes local merchants have become nimble enough to avoid a major hit to their bottom line if large crowds fail to turn out for the Hall of Fame event in July.
“It’s true that a great induction is an extra kicker for the summer season,” said Katz. “But I hear from the merchants that it’s no longer a make-or-break weekend for them.”
He added: “It will be a different type of induction, for sure, but I don’t see it as catastrophic from the retail angle.”
He said he expects that Hall of Fame executives will seek to stimulate attendance for Hall of Fame weekend by recruiting some of baseball’s living legends to Cooperstown.
In what was widely seen as a repudiation of baseball’s steroid-stained era, such former heroes of the diamond as Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all failed to muster the votes needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown. In seven years of being eligible, Mark McGwire, who holds the 10th slot in the list of all-time home run hitters, had his lowest vote total yet from the writers.
“There was no one rooting harder for an elected than we were,” a disappointed Jeff Idelson, the president of the Hall of Fame, said. “We will be looking now for ways to enhance the weekend in ways we normally wouldn’t. We will look for other ways to stimulate the economy.” He said he was not ready to discuss the specifics.
For the first time, Bonds and Clemens were eligible for Hall of Fame induction even though their careers ended while they were under suspicion for gaining an edge through the use of performance enhancing drugs. However, each received well short of the 75 percent needed to be catapulted into the Hall of Fame. Though Clemens won the coveted Cy Young pitching award seven times, he had just 37.6 percent of the writers backing him. Bonds did even worse, getting 36.2 percent of the vote.
Vincent Russo, owner of Mickey’s Place on Main Street in Cooperstown, said many merchants no longer depend on a huge throng for Hall of Fame weekend to make their season. He said that changed after the annual game between major leaguers stopped being part of the weekend several years ago.
“Now you have a day and a half dedicated to autograph signing and a day dedicated to the induction,” he said. “The business model in Cooperstown is different now. We’re not as dependent on Hall of Fame weekend as we once were because it is just not that big of an event as it once was. We have many days during the summer where we do revenues that exceed the revenues that we do on those days.”
Clemens, who has vehemently denied the use of steroids, reacted to coming up short on the vote by sending a message through his Twitter account: “After what has been written and said over the last few years I’m not overly surprised. Thanks to all the teams I’ve worked with and to fans and friends for all the fantastic letters, voice mails and texts of support over the last few years. To those who did take the time to look at the facts … we very much appreciate it.”
The close that any former player under consideration came to winning induction was Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who finished with 68 percent of the vote.
The outcome prompted one baseball beat writer, Anthony Witrado, to opine on the Sporting News website that the voting process is badly flawed.
“Some voters are retired from the business of sports journalism,” Witrado wrote. “Others have no other outlet to express themselves beyond a blog, a vehicle that the BBWAA has said is unworthy of inclusion. Other voters go decades without even working in sports but still are considered qualified to vote. They are grandfathered in and don’t pay any attention to what is happening in the game until December when the Hall of Fame ballot is due.”
The only inductees for the cermonies held in Cooperstown on July 28 will be three men who died more than 70 years ago: Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O’Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White. They were chosen last month by the 16-member panel considering individuals from the era before integration in 1947.
“It is a dark day,” said Jose Canseco, the former AL MVP who was among the first players to admit using steroids. “I think the players should organize some type of lawsuit against major league baseball or the writers. It’s ridiculous. Most of these players really have no evidence against them. They’ve never tested positive or they’ve cleared themselves like Roger Clemens.”
It was the eighth time the BBWAA failed to elect any players. There were four fewer votes than last year and five members submitted blank ballots.
“With 53 percent you can get to the White House, but you can’t get to Cooperstown,” BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell said. “It’s the 75 percent that makes it difficult.”
There have been calls for the voting to be taken away from the writers and be given to a more diverse electorate that would include players and broadcasters. The Hall says it is content with the process, which began in 1936.
“It takes time for history to sort itself out, and I’m not surprised we had a shutout today,” Idelson said.
Bonds, baseball’s only seven-time Most Valuable Player, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. He was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs but a jury two years ago failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer.
“It is unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection,” said Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, Bonds’ longtime agent.
Clemens was acquitted last year on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.
Sosa, eighth with 609 home runs, was among those who tested positive in MLB’s 2003 anonymous survey, The New York Times reported in 2009. He told a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.