When the Hall of Fame Game died an unceremonious death on a rain-drenched Monday in June, Hall officials could have taken the easy route in opting for a low-maintenance minor league game between two Triple-A teams. Instead, they took a path that will require more work and preparation—but it’s a path that will benefit both the Hall of Fame and the Cooperstown community.
The recent announcement regarding the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, which will replace the Hall of Fame Game and will be capped off by an old-timers’ game on June 21, should be received favorably by all fans who live within driving distance of Cooperstown. Given the state of the economy, it’s encouraging to hear that a major weekend of activity will coincide both with Father’s Day weekend and the official start of summer.
Frankly, this is something that the Hall of Fame should have done years ago. After all, what better place to celebrate nostalgia than a place where nostalgia is nurtured 362 days a year? The cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game gave Hall officials the vital push they needed to make an annual old-timers game a reality here in central New York. Let’s also not downplay the role that new Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson (the former PR director for the Yankees) played in the final decision. Former Hall leader Dale Petroskey had major reservations about the old-timers game concept; he once told me that the sight of older Hall of Famers struggling on the field of play could prove embarrassing. The Hall has addressed that shortcoming by attempting to draw from a pool of younger, recently retired stars.
In reality, the list of benefits far outweighs the potential drawbacks. Let’s consider just a few items on the favorable side:
* If we examine recent history, indications are strong that the community will support a legends game at Doubleday Field. In 1989, the Hall of Fame staged an old-timers game to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hall’s birth. The game drew a near sellout of 10,000 fans and plenty of regional media coverage. Since moving to Cooperstown in 1996, I’ve yet to hear any significant complaints about that 50th anniversary game.
* Throughout the Hall of Fame Classic, some of the 30 retired players will be signing autographs free of charge. This will be a refreshing change from recent Hall of Fame games, since most of the current day players didn’t want to come here and generally did little to acknowledge the fans at Doubleday Field. Those concerns won’t apply to the retired players, who will receive stipends for participating and will be contributing to a cause that financially aids the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
* Another criticism of the Hall of Fame Game was the infrequency with which teams like the Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox made appearances in Cooperstown. As pointed out at the recent press conference announcing the Hall of Fame Classic, efforts will be made to bring in a good supply of players with connections to the New York and Boston markets. I could easily picture a game featuring former Yanks like Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, David Cone, Al Leiter, and Goose Gossage, sprinkled in with former Red Sox like Rico Petrocelli, Bill Lee, Jim Lonborg, and Bill Campbell. I’d definitely pay to see such a game, with the added bonus of easily obtained autographs for each player.
* In recent years, Hall of Fame Weekend, relegated to the last weekend in July, has come too late in the summer to help some local businesses. With the addition of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, there will now be bookends to the critical summer season, a way to herald the start of tourist season and a way to wind it down. This is a smart move.
With those positives duly mentioned, let’s examine possible drawbacks. I can think of only one—and this is nitpicking more than overriding criticism. Only four Hall of Famers will participate in the game, with the rest of the players being secondary stars or average players. In an ideal world, six to eight Hall of Famers would have been nice. But the Hall of Fame could counteract that by convincing people like Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, who are likely to be elected to the Hall this January, to play in the game.
On balance, the introduction of the Hall of Fame Classic is a very good thing. In losing the Hall of Fame Game, we parted ways with a beloved longstanding tradition. Yet, in finding a replacement, we may have uncovered an event that will become just as popular—in a place where the history of the game is loved just as much as the game itself.
A resident of Cooperstown, NY, Bruce Markusen can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.