In 2017, when Cassandra Harrington applied for a position with Destination Marketing Corporation for Otsego County, which promotes tourism in Cooperstown, New York, she was asked about her experience managing and marketing statewide events. Although it was three years away at that point, the village was already preparing that Derek Jeter would surely become a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he was elected.
A star of that magnitude, having spent his entire career with a big team racing far from Cooperstown, would be a business bonanza for baseball’s famous, quaint New York town. While the town normally has a population of around 1,800, a dynamic Hall of Fame course could inspire up to 75,000 people to walk through Cooperstown in a single day during July’s induction weekend.
Though natural beauty abounds and there’s even an opera festival in the summer, the hall is Cooperstown’s calling card. That makes the less than two square mile city synonymous with the history of a sport steeped in nostalgia. When it comes to driving business to the inns, restaurants and gift shops along Main Street, the concourse is “a big deal,” said Tara Burke, the executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an anchor.”
“January gives us an idea of what our July might look like depending on who gets inducted,” Harrington said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. Though notoriously a vote short of unanimity, Jeter was elected his first year on the ballot. That was January 2020; You may remember what came next.
There was no induction ceremony in 2020, nor was there an annual summer baseball tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park that draws tourists to the area for weeks. In August this year, the , but .
“That was expected to be the largest induction before COVID, a tremendous induction,” Burke said. “You were expecting a lot of people.”
Jeter was finally introduced the following year in a ceremony that was pushed back to September and still scaled down for safety reasons. , a quarter of the 80,000 expected to make the journey for Jeter if not because of the pandemic.
“We thought this would be the moment that would really give Cooperstown the shot in the arm that it needed to get through the next few years when tuition might be tight,” Harrington said.
The classes were indeed slim – with a few notable exceptions. In 2021, no one was elected, although that year the delayed Jeter ceremony took place in the hall. In 2022 it was just David Ortiz, but the proximity to Boston brought in a lot of Big Papi fans.
In December, the Contemporary Era Committee, which doesn’t garner nearly as much attention, chose Fred McGriff, who played for six organizations, most of them nowhere near Cooperstown. But a ceremony without a headliner — or simply one with broader appeal — is bad for business. And there were concerns that this year’s combination of players on steroids like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, borderline candidates like Todd Helton, and the first test of anchoring members of the 2017 Astros shield-stealing operation in Carlos Beltrán would result in another empty class.
With all due respect, a marquee with just McGriff’s name on it would only motivate a limited number of people to head out.
“The expected number of fans is kind of dependent on who gets inducted,” Burke said.
This makes this an important week for the Cooperstown tourism community. Ahead of the annual announcements, Harrington prepares promotional material tied to potential initiates who stand a chance of breaking the 75% threshold, and then cuts back based on who makes the cut or not.
“We are waiting to form a good part of our marketing plans for this announcement. So I push back a lot of sellers who call me and ask me to advertise with them because I’m waiting to see what markets we have to talk to this year,” she said a few days before Tuesday’s unveiling.
“We don’t expect this summer to be one of our biggest courses by any means.”
Well, it may not be much, but at least McGriff won’t be alone on that podium in July. In his sixth year of eligibility — players drop out of the ballot after 10 or when they are on less than 5% of the ballots — third baseman Scott Rolen outdid himself on Tuesday. He was named on 297 ballots out of 389, good for 76.3%. South Philly, where he spent the first six years of his career and was named Rookie of the Year, is less than 4.5 hours from the Hall of Fame, assuming traffic isn’t too bad.
The launch of the Class of 2023 will not be a national event setting attendance records like Jeter could have done in better circumstances. And there won’t be the caché of a first-election candidate, as there likely will be next year when Adrián Beltré makes his debut for eligibility. But Cooperstown will be home to staunch Phillies, Cardinals, Reds and – more generally – baseball fans this summer.
The ceremony takes place on a Sunday, but Harrington recommends visitors get into town a day in advance. This gives them more time for the community and above all because they can put down chairs and blankets on Saturday to ensure a good view of the lectern.
“So you don’t have to get up on Sunday and be there hours before it starts,” she said. “Your place is as safe as the people around you are polite.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Hannah Keyser on Twitter @Hannah R Keyser.