The Cooperstown shopkeepers I spoke with two summers ago could barely contain their enthusiasm. The summer of 2020 was going to be their most profitable ever, thanks to the induction of Derek Jeter into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the last Sunday in July. Nearly 100,000 visitors were expected to flock to the quaint, Central New York village to celebrate the enshrinement of the Yankees’ iconic shortstop. The scene was going to be insane. Baseball’s Woodstock, if you will.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the ceremonies had to be postponed.
A decision was made to push the inductions of Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and late union chief Marvin Miller to this July. A six-figure influx of visitors no longer was anticipated, but the turnout was still expected to be robust, perhaps even approaching the crowd of 55,000 spectators that Mariano Rivera and company drew in 2019 — an induction throng that trailed only the 80,000 on hand for the enshrinement of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn in 2007.
Late last week, COVID-19 delivered another nasty curve. In a decision that was right but painful, the Hall announced this summer’s ceremonies would still be held, but it would be a televised-only event, sans fans. The gathering of thousands of spectators at the Clark Sports Center grounds on the outskirts of town would have made enforcement of pandemic protocols next to impossible.
Count me among those bummed. See, attending Hall of Fame week in Cooperstown has become an annual pilgrimage. There’s nothing in sports quite like it. It’s a four-day-long festival, the best weekend on the baseball calendar. And where it’s held is a huge part of what makes it so special. The Abner Doubleday myth of inventing baseball in Cooperstown was debunked by historians many moons ago, but that doesn’t matter because while that lovely burg nestled at the foot of the Catskills and Adirondacks isn’t the sport’s birthplace, it has become home to its history and soul.
I feel for the people at the Hall of Fame and the people who live and work in and around that village. They’ve taken an enormous economic hit as a result of this — a hit that will take years from which to recover. And I feel for the fans who attend these free, open-to-anyone inductions.
Summer won’t be quite the same this year. For them. Or me.
Although the Buffalo Bills have some serious salary cap issues because of huge pandemic-related money losses, they can get creative and make room for J.J. Watt on their defensive line if they truly covet him.
Admittedly, Watt isn’t the same player who garnered three NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards in his first five seasons. And yes, there are concerns about his age (he turns 32 in March) and his durability (injuries caused him to miss 32 games the past five seasons). But the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer remains a force. A five-time All-Pro at defensive end, Watt played all 16 games last season for the Houston Texans, and had 16 quarterback hits to go along with five sacks, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one interception. Don’t be fooled by that low sack total. Sacks are a sexy but overrated stat. Various analytic sites have noted that Watt, despite being double-teamed on the majority of snaps, was still among the most disruptive pass-rushers in the game.
Harassing quarterbacks is a deficiency for a Bills team that’s oh, so close to winning it all. And Watt just might be that missing link — a guy who can rattle quarterbacks and create big-play opportunities for his teammates, especially Jerry Hughes and the underachieving Ed Oliver.
Playing for a legitimate Super Bowl contender is Watt’s top desire. As mentioned, it will take some serious number fidgeting by Bills general manager Brandon Beane, but it just might be worth it. By re-structuring some of the team’s bigger contracts and releasing players such as wide receiver John Brown and center Mitch Morse (combined $15 million), Beane can retain several of his own free agents (offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams come to mind), and still find a way to give Watt the projected two-year, $12 million-per-year deal he’ll probably command.
Pittsburgh is the favorite to land him, its recruitment bolstered by the fact two of Watt’s brothers — T.J. and Derek — play for the Steelers. The defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs also have thrown their helmet into the ring, but the Bills could be the ideal fit.
Carmelo Anthony’s acceptance of his sixth-man role with the Portland Trail Blazers continues to work out well, with the former Syracuse University All-American averaging an efficient 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Melo recently leapfrogged Oscar Robertson into 12th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and if he maintains his current pace, he should surpass Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone and move into ninth place by season’s end. Anthony, who will forever be loved in these parts for leading the Orange to the 2003 NCAA championship, turns 37 in May, and if he returns next season, he would have an excellent shot of supplanting Shaquille O’Neal for No. 8 all-time.
Though Anthony never won an NBA championship, he does have that national championship and three Olympic gold medals to go along with all those points he’s scored. He’s a shoo-in, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer after he hangs up his Nikes, and will join Dave Bing, Jim Boeheim and Vic Hanson as SU alums to be inducted into the Springfield, Mass., hoops shrine. He and LeBron James (currently third behind all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and runner-up Karl Malone) are the only active players in the top 25.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.