Maybe it's appropriate the Hall of Fame Game went out this way.
Maybe—no, make that certainly—Cubs manager Lou Piniella was right: This exhibition, at least on this day, wasn't worth the trip.
The sky erupted with thunder and lightning and a deluge stoked by buffeting winds. The ensuing hail gave the scene a nice wrath-of-God touch.
Fans, nearly 10,000 of them, had packed Doubleday Field on Monday to see the final installment of a tradition dating to 1940, but ending this afternoon. The crowd scurried from metal benches toward the exits and whatever cover they could find outside the grandstand. There wasn't much.
Soon the central New York sky temporarily cleared and the drenched were allowed back into the historic ballpark. Hope?
Nope. The rains and the wrath returned. The game Major League Baseball no longer wants to play, the game Piniella didn't want to play, did not get played. And the fans got soaked.
Game called. For good.
Major League Baseball cited scheduling and travel conflicts as the reason for discontinuing the annual exhibition that until 2003 was held at the same time as July's Induction Weekend.
The Hall of Fame is looking at substitutes for what had become a major revenue generator for the community and a celebration of the game and its fans. "Everything is on the table," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said Monday. Some sort of old-timers' game could be in the offing.
Meanwhile, in a place that embraces the past, a tradition died an ignominious death.
There's some bitterness over the exhibition that's no more. Granted, the bulk of the game's playing time went to minor-leaguers— the Cubs called up 16, the Padres 12—but that's not the point.
Fans, including those who came to Cooperstown in Fukudome jerseys or Sandberg gear or that of virtually every major-league team, feel they are owed. Not the millions the players make, mind you. Just some sort of a nod, a sense of gratitude—something. This exhibition game sufficed.
"It's bad for the fans," said 44-year-old Chicago native Rich Bolin of St. Joseph's, Mich., in town with his four brothers. "Look at this turnout."
Fans were five-deep along Main Street, where Doubleday Field and the Hall of Fame are located. At least they got a final parade before weather stepped in.
Piniella has been to the Hall of Fame Game before as a player and as a manager. But he didn't want to be here, not with the Cubs heading to his hometown of Tampa, a rare day off lost to a meaningless game as far as the standings are concerned.
"We're in a tough stretch of games. And we're on the road a lot this month," Piniella said outside the Cubs' dugout. "Truthfully, if you had your druthers you'd rather have the day off. But again, we were chosen to be here. San Diego was chosen to be here. And here we are. And we're happy to accommodate the best way we can."
To some, his earlier comments smacked of inconsideration for this game that's viewed as a "gift" to fans.
"I guess some professional ballplayers can't be hassled on their day off to play an exhibition game for the fans," said Chaz Davis, a 43-year-old from Chicago, who came with his wife Helen to see the Cubs play in Cooperstown.
"We understand it. We saw the enthusiasm," Piniella said. "I understand the significance of the game. And I understand it's an inconvenience for the teams involved. For me, I could have had a day off in my hometown today."
The Cubs' travels were indeed a hardship: a flight from Toronto to Albany, N.Y., then a 90-minute bus ride, then a return trip to Albany before heading on to Florida—all on Monday.
But players—especially the veterans—said the griping about a difficult side trip was forgotten once they arrived in Cooperstown. "It's something that's a pain in the butt to go through, but when you get here it makes it all worthwhile," Jim Edmonds said.
Padres pitcher Greg Maddux, a future Hall of Famer, agreed.
"When you look at the schedule back in spring training you're like, 'Oh, that's an off day. We don't want to go,' " Maddux said, "But once you're here you're kind of glad you're here. For me it's a great place to spend an off day."
At least for a few hours. Then the sky opened up, and the fans made a final dash for the exits. Piniella and Co. were already gone. They beat the rush.
Mark McGuire is a columnist with the Albany Times Union—not the executive vice president of business operations for the Cubs.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times