Baseball fans have flocked to Cooperstown, N.Y., to watch the induction of a new class of Hall of Famers today, just as they have almost every year since 1939. For one day, this small town in upstate New York becomes the center of the baseball universe, and a Main Street that looks like a postcard from a century ago brings baseball’s glorious past to life.
In many ways, the 2021 induction ceremony, which begins at 1:30 p.m. ET, will closely resemble the joyous celebrations from years past. Spectators will be allowed to attend the ceremony, which has taken place up the road from the Hall of Fame at the Clark Sports Center since 1992. Fans will also gather to watch it streamed live in both the Grandstand Theater and the Bullpen Theater inside the Museum.
As is tradition, many Hall of Famers will return to Cooperstown for the festivities.
“The introduction of returning Hall of Famers is always a highlight of the induction ceremony,” said Jon Shestakofsky, vice president of communications and education at the Hall of Fame. “This important part of the ceremony should run very similarly to past years, with [MLB Network host] Brian Kenny serving as our emcee and introducing each Hall of Fame member as they take the stage to the crowd's applause, culminating with our newest members -- the Class of 2020.”
However, the 2021 festivities will also be noticeably different than previous ones. Since the 2019 ceremony, which was the last one held due to the pandemic, 10 Hall of Famers have passed away. They will all be remembered as part of this year’s event.
“It has been a difficult year and a half for baseball and for the Hall of Fame, having lost so many members of our family,” said Shestakofsky. “A significant part of the early part of the induction ceremony will be a tribute to those Hall of Famers who passed away since our last induction ceremony. This segment will include video elements produced by Major League Baseball and narration provided by Johnny Bench, who had close relationships with each of those 10 men.”
This year’s induction also will be without the Hall of Fame parade, another cherished part of the annual festivities. It began as an informal unannounced procession in the late 1990s, in which Hall of Famers traveled in trolleys from Cooperstown’s Otesaga Resort Hotel to the Hall of Fame for a reception the night before the induction ceremony. It was officially added to the induction weekend calendar in 2011.
Bruce Markusen, the manager of digital and outreach learning at the Hall of Fame, helped coordinate the original parade logistics. He is still heavily involved with pre-parade trivia and in-parade spotting, identifying Hall of Famers for fans and the parade’s announcer -- formerly broadcaster Gary Thorne, and now Kenny.
“It’s always been a very fun thing for me to do,” said Markusen. “You’re right there on Main Street, surrounded by thousands of people on either side of the street. People will ask you questions, ‘Hey, who’s coming next? Who’s the next Hall of Famer?’ Or they might ask me, ‘Who’s that person over there? Is that a celebrity? Should I know who that is?’ So we would always have a lot of informal interactions with the fans, and it was always very exciting.”
Markusen is also one of the induction ceremony announcers. He anticipates that despite the schedule changes, the 2021 ceremony will be as lively as usual.
“I think if the weather is good, we could see 45,000-50,000 people out there,” said Markusen. “This is just a gut feeling based on the fact that Jeter is so popular, and also based on the fact that we didn’t have an induction last year. I think people really want to get out there and be part of this.
“It’s a history-making event. It’s an induction in September instead of our usual summer induction. It’s unusual also in that we’re actually honoring the previous year’s class -- the Class of 2020 -- in 2021, and that’s not a standard thing that we do.
“But the circumstances that the country and the world have been in have put us in this situation. It’s not like any other ceremony we’ve had. It’s going to be history-making, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”