The Last Hall of Fame Game
It is with decidedly mixed feelings that I view the end of the Hall of Fame Game. The tradition, which started one year before the onset of World War II, ended with Monday afternoon’s rainout of the scheduled exhibition game between the Cubs and Padres.
On the one hand, the game had deteriorated over the last 20 years, with players becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the game, and managers increasingly unwilling to give their star players more than a token at-bat–if that much. More often than not, the Hall of Fame Game had become a glorified exhibition of minor leaguers, many of whom were not even top prospects within their organization.
Yet, there was something to the game that made it a spectacle, a special event that brought Cooperstown (and the surrounding towns) together for a day-long celebration. For many central New York residents who live far from major league cities or struggle with their incomes, it was their only opportunity to see major league players in a live ballpark setting. The game was also a terrific vehicle for the Hall of Fame, giving it a tangible link to Major League Baseball and providing an opportunity to promote the upcoming induction ceremony. And on a lesser scale, the game provided good public relations for MLB–an opportunity to give back to upstate New York fans with more reasonable ticket pricess and an up-close look at real major leaguers. Sadly, all of that is gone now.
Is there any realistic chance the Hall of Fame Game can be revived? Probably not, given how current-day players absolutely detest the notion of playing in-season exhibitions and being inconvenienced in any way, shape, or form. For lack of better phrasing, the players really have acted like spoiled children here, so much so that they have gotten their way–and have no intention of changing their mind. But I do applaud the efforts of people like Kristian Connolly, who has headed up the “Save the Fame Game” campaign. Critics have derided Connolly for failing to recognize a lost cause, but I give him plenty of credit for doing more than just complaining. At least he’s trying to influence change, something that more of us need to do in our own lives. He’s also a thoughtful guy and talented writer who has impressed me with the quality of his letters, editorials, and web site.
Perhaps a future generation of players will see the light–and start to think as reasonably and passionately as Connolly has. Although the current players clearly don’t get it, maybe the next wave of major leaguers will be more thoughtful and caring toward the fans who care about the tradition and celebration that encompass the Hall of Fame Game. Perhaps that is the best hope for Connolly and the rest of us who care about baseball and care about Cooperstown…
And now, a few thoughts on this year’s Hall of Fame Game proceedings, which began with the annual parade down Main Street.
*As it turned out, the Hall of Fame Game Day parade emerged as the highlight of the day. Shortly before the rains hit Cooperstown, the 40-minute parade featured a good mix of local celebrities, Scottish bagpipe performers, some outlandishly dressed dancers, and the current day members of the Cubs and Padres. Diverse and well paced, the parade provided good entertainment for the 3,000-plus fans who lined Main Street…
*The one downer to the parade may have been Lou Piniella, who rode in the Cubs’ trolley at the end of the parade. According to my spies, a number of fans screamed “Lou! Lou,” hoping that Piniella would wave–or even smile. Instead, he continued to frown, maintaining a scowl that reflected his contempt for having to come to Cooperstown in the first place. Perhaps someone needs to remind “Sweet Lou” that this is baseball–and that everyone loves a parade. Cheer up, Lou, your Cubs are in first place. Heck, they have the best record of anyone in baseball..
*The Hall of Fame properly staged a moment of silence for Tim Russert during its pregame ceremony. In addition to being an avid baseball fan, Russert was a member of the Hall’s board of directors. Clearly, Russert will be missed, not just by the news and political worlds, but by the smaller baseball community, too..
*Clubhouse managers don’t receive much acclaim, but the Cubs’ Yosh Kawano took his momentary turn in the spotlight when he officially donated his trademark fishing hat to Hall of Fame officials. Congratulations, Yosh, for leaving a bit of your legacy with the Hall of Fame and Museum.
*Finally, it was good to hear and see Ferguson Jenkins, who participated in a Sunday night Hall program before throwing out the first pitch at Doubleday Field. Jenkins is one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken Hall of Famers, right up there with the likes of Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, and Don Sutton. Fergie is always a welcome addition to the proceedings here in Cooperstown.