One of the lesser-known events of the Major League Baseball season is the Hall of Fame Game. That obscurity is perhaps fitting, as the game occurs not to overshadow the induction of baseball legends into the Hall of Fame, but to complement their inclusion with a sample of what the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is all about: playing baseball.
The idea for the game got its start at Doubleday Field on June 12, 1939, the day the Museum's doors opened. Eddie Collins and Honus Wagner, early Hall of Fame inductees, managed hand-picked teams of current All-Star players in the first game. Dizzy Dean of the Chicago Cubs threw the first pitch and finished two scoreless innings. Babe Ruth appeared in the game, four years into his retirement. All told, twelve current or future Hall of Famers participated in the festivities.
In the first true Hall of Fame Game in 1940, the concept of having a current team from each league play got its start. The Chicago Cubs defeated the Boston Red Sox 10-9 in a game shortened by rain to seven innings. With future Hall of Famers Joe Cronin and Gabby Hartnett managing the teams and Ted Williams and Jimmy Foxx in the Boston lineup, the game foreshadowed the excellent talent that would wind up in the Hall.
Cooperstown, New York, designated as the 1839 birthplace of modern baseball by a commission that studied the matter closely in 1905, seems to sit in the middle of a rain belt, as rain shortened both the 1940 and 1941 games and cancelled the 1944 game outright. Then, with 1945 wartime travel restrictions in place, it was two years before the scheduled 1944 teams, the Detroit Tigers and the New York Giants, got to play, with the Giants taking home a 9-5 win.
Rain figured as well in shortened tie games in 1959, 1978, 1982 and 1999. Rain caused 1962, 1990, 1993 cancellations, as well as a shortened 1969 victory for the Twins over Houston. The 1988 and 1996 games ended as ties after 9 innings, as Doubleday Field has no lights. The most unusual disruption of play occurred in 1989, when the team plane for the Cincinnati Reds developed hydraulic problems in Montreal, leaving the Boston Red Sox with no option but to play themselves. The 'Red Sox' tied the Red Sox split squad, named the 'Yastrzemskis,' 4-4 in seven innings.
While the Hall of Fame Game is an exhibition game, there is a mystique to being on the grounds of the Hall of Fame and Museum that escapes the annual All-Star Game. If you can be in Cooperstwon in the summer, your tickets to this exciting contest await you.
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