Wind, rain, snow, hail and the wrath of Pete Rose's fans all pelted at Cinicnnati club president Bob Howsam's windows today.
"Has it stopped yet?" asked Howsam.
He meant the blustery weather that threatened Wednesday's opening day game here against the San Diego Padres. But he might just as well have meant the public outcry against him from thousands of Cincinnatians.
Baseball is rich in the lore of salary disputes but perhaps none matches the improbability of the current battle between Howsam and Rose that has split this town like a minor civil war.
Rose, the world champion Reds' 36-year-old third baseman, has turned down a $135,000-a-year pay raise to $325,000 and a two-year contract. Furthermore, he has threatened to fine the club $25,000 a month until the All-Star break if they don't meet his demands for $400,000 a season.
"If a player doesn't sign and doesn't join the club, he is fined a thousand bucks a day," said Rose this week."I'm just doing the same thing (to them)."
After the All-Star break Rose says he will play out his option and take his 200 hits a year to the highest bidder.
Cincinnati businessmen have held a special sale to start a Pete Rose Salary Fund out of their own profits Petitions, signed by a thousand residents, hit Howsam's desk today bearing the two-word message, "Sign Pete."
Howsam is at wit's end. Last weekend the Reds took out a full-page, 1,500-word advertisement in two local papers to spell out - penny for penny - their arguments and countercharges against Rose.
On Monday Howsam took to the radio - figures on comparative salaries in hand - to field questions from irate fans about why he is being, in one caller's words, "so cheap and unfair with Mr. Rose."
"The town is fascinated or obsessed with this." said Howsam today, "the same as they are when the Reds play a game. It's become a citywide family squabble."
Actually, Rose has not been a member in good standing of the Reds' inner circle for a long time. He has held out repeatedly in past seasons, fighting for his dollars as he fights for his hits. He has "negotiated in the newspapers in bad faith" is a phrase Howsam spits out.
He has introduced nearly a dozen Reds to agent Jerry Kapstein, that symbol of ball players lib whom Howsam loathes and lambastes above all others.
"I'm sure Pete has been resented for a long time for his friendship with Kapstein," said a source close to Rose. "Every time Howsam thinks of Don Gullett playing out his option last year or of Rawly Eastwick and maybe Gary Nolan doing it this year, he has to remember that Pete brought them all together with Kapstein."
Throughout his career Rose has always been defiantly independent of Red's management, speaking out controversially on a club where a cautious party line is otherwise closely followed. Rose's answer was always that he appealed directly to his fans with his play and his personality. He didn't really need management's good will.
Now, it seems, Rose is being proved right. "It doesn't surprise me at all that Pete has gotten this kind of massive public support," said Kapstein today. "I've driven through town with him and he's recognized and stopped at every traffic light."
Against this background, it is possible to understand why Cincinnati fans suspect this may be Rose's last year as a Red because of the mutual bad will between the player and the club.
"They're trying to force me out of Cincinnati," said Rose this week, boiling mad after hearing about the Reds' newspaper ad. "But not until I have one more good year.
"I can't fight the Cincinnati Reds, 160 radio stations and nine TV outlets (in the Reds' broadcast network) and paid advertisements."
Yet Rose seemed to be winning the publicity battle anyway.
The Reds face Cy Young Award winner - Randy Jones - here at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in a game that kicks off the National League's second century. But the media talk here is only of Rose.
The Reds are rife with potential problems. With Gullett gone, Pat Zachry with a tender elbow, and the disgruntled Nolan pitching with a sore foot, the Reds' mound staff resembles the one that collapsed under the Red Machine in 1973.
Even Cincinnati sports writers are picking Los Angeles to knock off the Reds. Normally this might be hersey, but as long as Rose remains unhappy the public will tolerate criticism of the Reds.
"We have been treated unfairly by our own media," Howsam said flatly today. "Most of the people who write about us are opposed to managements in general, even in their own papers.
"To the older writers, baseball was their life. To the new guys, it's just a job . . .
"We're tired of misrepresentations and half-truths. Buying an ad was just a way that we could tell our story."
Howsam is not ready to wander around Fountain Square in this chill spring storm, shouting like King Lear. "Never, never, never." But he believes that he has felt the sharp tooth of Rose's ingratitude, and that of a half dozen of his other baseball children, too. He is determined to hold his salary line, whatever the cost.
"Baseball is racing down the road to I don't know what," said Howsam. "With players taking this one-shot grab at all the money they can get, it destroys the interest of a front office in trying to build a great club. It just costs you more money.
"We have to have some things in this country that you can hang your hat on. The fabric of baseball is one of those things. But when some owners try to buy a team, rather than develop it, I think that down deep the fans know something is wrong and root against those teams."
Perhaps it is appropriate that this season, when as many as 100 still unsigned players may play out their options, should start on a note of fiscal acrimony. Many, like Kapstein, insist, "the number of top players who are unsigned is not as frightening as people thought it would be. It's less than last year. This will definitely be the last season for free-agent bidding on a massive scale."
Nevertheless, one vivid illustration of the contaminating power of the dollar is the scene here in Cincinnati. A year ago the sunlit downtown was a festive parade as the Queen City swept its beloved Reds to Riverfront Stadium.
This year for Opening Day there is a 20 per cent probability of snow, and an event higher chance of disillusionment.