Padres, Cubs to play in final Baseball Hall of Fame Game

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- There is no joy at Doubleday Field. Major League Baseball has struck out.

Nearly 70 years after the tradition began, the Baseball Hall of Fame Game will end after this year's game between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres on June 16. Officials at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum said Tuesday that Major League Baseball decided keeping the game was too difficult because of the complexities of the major league schedule and "all its inherent challenges."

Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications and education at the Hall of Fame, said the change was inevitable once all the other exhibition games were stripped from the schedule in 2002.

"It's been a great tradition, but we completely understand the enormous difficulty of scheduling, with interleague play, expansion and teams entitled to an off-day every 20-plus days," he said. "It's sad that the tradition is ending, but by the same token we're rateful for what they've provided. We feel the museum has a tremendous amount of national programs in place now that weren't in place five or 10 years ago."

The first Hall of Fame Game was played in 1940, and it is the last surviving in-season exhibition game on the major league schedule.

"In my opinion, they just want to get rid of it. It's been a fundraiser for the Hall of Fame," 89-year-old Hall of Famer Bob Feller said. "I hate to see them do it, but they've got that heavy schedule, and the schedule is made to make money. And I'm sure the players aren't enthused about it [playing in the game]."

From its inception until 1978, the Hall of Fame Game was played the same day as the induction ceremony. It was switched in 1979 to the day after and had become a big hit, usually selling out historic Doubleday Field's 9,571 seats within hours.

The game was moved to mid-June in 2002 because of scheduling problems, and Hall of Fame officials added a parade down Main Street of this one-stoplight village as part of the festivities. The school district also developed a tradition of its own, saving the last snow day of winter so all the kids could have the day off when the major-leaguers came to town.

Local businesses are sure to take a hit with the demise of the game, but John Bullis, who heads the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, said they'll work on providing other fan attractions.

"I don't know if there'd ever be a good time. The game, for a small community, it was just grand," said Bullis, who was informed last week of the decision. "It was great while it lasted."

That the final Hall of Fame Game will take place the day after Father's Day was no consolation for 88-year-old Sam Nader, who has owned the Oneonta franchise of the New York-Penn League since the 1960s.

"I'm very disappointed. I think it's a pretty selfish thing on the part of Major League Baseball," said Nader, who plans on being at Doubleday Field for the final game. "It was great for people in the hinterlands."

People like Joe Rayter, an air traffic controller from Rochester, N.Y.

"Ouch! That hurts," said Rayter, a former Babe Ruth coach. "It's an annual event we always look forward to doing. I don't understand why it would be so hard to schedule it. It was always a couple of teams playing on the East Coast. It was always doable before. Why is it not possible now?

"I camped out there many times to get tickets to the game," Rayter said. "You feel the cold wind coming down Otsego Lake, and even though you're in that pristine, quaint village, it's still cold. It was the camaraderie of the other fans that kept you warm. I guess it isn't important anymore. They have other things to worry about, I guess, with steroids."