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New Hall of Fame Game sounds better than the old one ...

Did you ever have occasion where a situation was kinda forced on you for any number of reasons and it turns out that the “solution” was so cool that you wonder why you didn’t do things that way in the first place? I raise the hypothetical after reading the official press release from the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown last weekend.

This blog will poach in spots from the PR release (italics), the gist of which is that the new arrangement with having Hall of Famers and retired ballplayers square off for the exhibition game at Doubleday Field sounds like it should have been the way we were doing this all along.

With 90-year-old Bob Feller (Hall of Fame Class of 1962) starting the game on the mound for Team Wagner, the 7,069 fans at Doubleday Field were treated to a Hall of Fame matchup right off the bat when Paul Molitor (HOF Class of 2004) came to the plate for Team Collins and singled to center.

Hall of Famer Bob Feller delivers a pitch during Sunday’s
Baseball Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Milo Stewart
Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Bob Feller.jpg

“We made a deal – he said no bunting and I told him I’d keep line drives out of the middle of the field,” Molitor said after his hit.

Bobby Grich followed Molitor – and promptly brought the house down by half-heartedly charging the mound after a Feller offering came a little too close for comfort. From that point on, the laughter coming from the stands was just as prevalent as the cheers – as the players made sure the fans had a good time.

The inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend was presented by Ford Motor Company, and the game featured Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Brooks Robinson along with 21 former major leaguers.

The new arrangement follows decades of having actual major league teams travel to Cooperstown for a mid-summer exhibition, but the difficulties of scheduling that annual game led the Hall officials to find an alternative. The last game under the old format, in 2008, was perhaps fittingly rained out.

Feller left the game soon after facing Grich, signing autographs for fans – many of whom were not born when he threw his last major league pitch in 1956. But more than 50 years later, Feller’s legend remains larger than life.

Team Collins scored two runs in the first on RBI singles by Steve Finley and Johnny Grubb, but Team Wagner escaped further damage when Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins got Mike Timlin to hit into a double play started by 11-year-old surprise shortstop Zach D’Errico of Schenectady, N.Y. D’Errico came to the game with his father, Rich, and was asked onto the field by Steve Lyons of Team Wagner.

Team Collins added two more runs in the third on a Finley triple and a Kevin Maas home run. But in the bottom of the fifth, Team Wagner cut the deficit to 4-1 on an RBI double by former Reds’ slugger George Foster. The teams were named in honor of the team managers (Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Honus Wagner) in a 1939 all-star game played in Cooperstown at the first Hall of Fame induction.

Then in the bottom of the sixth, Team Wagner scored four runs on an RBI double by former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill Lee, an RBI groundout by military all-star Corey Davisson, an RBI single by Lyons and what proved to be the game-winning double by former Yankees third baseman Mike Pagliarulo.

Lee Smith picked up the win by pitching the sixth inning for Team Wagner, and Rich Surhoff got the save. Lyons had three hits for Team Wagner, while Finley and Grubb had three hits apiece for Team Collins.

“The game was a success,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “We were happy to see everyone having a good time at the ballpark and connecting families as well as celebrating history today on Father’s Day. Not until next year’s Classic will that much talent be having that much fun on the dirt.”

I’ve tried to cajole my Midwestern colleagues here in Wisconsin to take a sortie to Cooperstown, and the new tradition sounds like one more reason to continue hectoring them about it. It’s an idea whose time could have come years ago. Watching a game at Doubleday Field is as close as you’ll ever get to replicating Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” euphoria from 20 years ago, followed closely by sitting in the Hall’s absolutely unique baseball theatre.

I mean no disrespect to the modern players, but the Hall of Fame is just as much (maybe more) about the thousands of guys who came before as it is about them. It sounds to me like the “new” Hall of Fame Game may be even cooler than the old one.

There. Who says I can never embrace new ideas?