Derek Jeter’s first-ballot entry to the Hall of Fame is going to require a second year to play out on the Cooperstown stage.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hall announced Wednesday that this year’s induction ceremony — which also would have featured Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller — has been postponed. This year's inductees will be enshrined in 2021 during the weekend of July 23-25.
Now Jeter is likely to share the spotlight with the controversial Curt Schilling, a political lightning rod who received 70% of the vote this year (75% is the threshold for induction). Additionally, there is an outside chance of Jeter being joined by Roger Clemens (61%) and Barry Bonds (60.7%), the two next closest to Cooperstown.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame will be an incredible honor, but the health and safety of everyone involved are paramount,” Jeter said in the Hall’s statement. “I respect and support the decision to postpone this year’s enshrinement and am looking forward to joining current Hall of Famers, fans, staff and my family and friends in Cooperstown in 2021.”
As for the 2021 newcomers, the top of that list, by WAR, consists of Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Dan Haren and Barry Zito. No first-ballot inductees in that group.
Last year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Mariano Rivera drew a crowd of 55,000, and with Jeter expected to surpass that number with a possible 70,000 attending, it wasn’t feasible from a public health standpoint to proceed with the event. Also, there was serious concern about past Hall of Famers — many of them potentially in a COVID-19 high-risk group — returning to Cooperstown, as they do every July for the event.
“In heeding the advice of government officials as well as federal, state and local medical and scientific experts, we chose to act with extraordinary caution in making this decision,” Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.
Cuomo: Saratoga meeting in jeopardy
Even before the Hall made its announcement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suggested Wednesday that similarly large upstate events such as the opening of Saratoga's thoroughbred racetrack — scheduled for July 16 — probably are a no-go. Cuomo described Saratoga, a very popular summer destination, as an “attractive nuisance” based on the threat posed by such a huge gathering.
“You can't open an attraction that could bring people from across the state to that attraction and overwhelm a region,” Cuomo said. “The state fair in Syracuse, the Saratoga racetrack. I don't think we have time, first of all. But today I don't think you can open those, unless we do it statewide. Because there is such a pent-up demand to get out of the house and do something, you open the Saratoga racetrack, I guarantee you’ll have the highest attendance in the history of the Saratoga racetrack. You will have people from the entire Northeast region driving to the Saratoga racetrack just because they want to get out of the house.
“Now you could say, well, that's great for the Saratoga racetrack. But density is not our friend, right? Even when you talk about opening a venue, you look at some of the pictures and some of the states that are opening venues — two seats apart six feet apart. How do you do six feet apart at the racetrack? How do you do six feet apart at the state fair? How do you do six feet apart at the racetrack or the state fair when you have double the attendance you've ever had, and people are all crammed in there?
"So I think it would have to be a statewide opening — coordinate with Connecticut, coordinate with New Jersey. Otherwise you will have a much, much more dense situation if you wind up being the only attraction in town — and town is the tri-state region.”
The New York Racing Association issued its own statement after Cuomo's Wednesday media briefing, which basically pleaded its case for operating the Saratoga track without fans, as was done with Aqueduct through March 15 and as they hope to do with Belmont Park as well. NYRA emphasized that Cuomo previously has “encouraged sports entities to consider how they could operate without fans in attendance” and the importance of “providing much needed entertainment.”
"As such, NYRA is seeking to resume live racing at Belmont Park in the absence of fans and we have prepared operating plans that follow the same model for Saratoga,” the statement continued. “These plans prioritize the health and safety of employees, horsemen and the backstretch community and include a broad array of risk mitigation strategies developed according to the most updated heath guidance.
“By closing to the public, layering additional health and safety protocols to our ongoing practices, and reducing the number of employees on-property, NYRA is in a position to provide a small sense of normalcy for fans across the country who can watch on television and online.”