For days, the rain and mist had been unceasing here, constantly threatening to spoil today's Hall of Fame induction party.
But Ernie Banks showed up this morning with his unfailing smile, singling aloud, "My Kind of Town," and wearing a mammoth Chicago Cub lapel button. The clouds fled, the mist evaporated, the sun broke through.
By the time Banks was called forward for induction, with his thousands of fans in Cooper Park standing and cheering,it seemed only right that Mr. Cub should begin: "We've got the setting - sunshine, fresh air. We've got the team," pointing to a score of Hall of Famers behind his, "so . . . let's play two."
Banks, the only man in baseball history better known for his good spirits than for his achievements, became only the ninth player in history to enter the Hall in his first year of eligibility before the Baseball Writers Association.
Banks was joined in the Hall by three men - hard-to-fan Joe Sewell, gentlemen Al Lopez and disorderly Amos Rusie - who were chosen by the veterans committee, and two - Cuban Martin Dihigo and John Henry (Pop) Lloyd - picked by the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues.
If Banks was the days' bona fide celebrity as the greatest slugging shortstop of all-time, then the 5-foot-6 Sewell, a man of little power but great tenacity, was the day's scene-stealer.
"I thank ye for these kind remarks," said the tiny 78-yearold who struck out only 114 times in 7,132 atbats. "It's certainly nice to be here . . . in person."
"It's nice to be selected while I still have a few faculties and can move around and see a few things," said the .312 career hitter who gave up hope of a place in the Hall nearly 30 years ago.
While the stately Lopez, who made his reputation by managing 10 teams to second-place finishes behind the New York Yankees, thanked almost everyone in his past in a cracking voice, including a newspaper photographer, Sewell belted out his talk for all to hear.
"I would like to see the greed, the selfishness and the hate that seems to exist today to be eliminated from our game," said Sewell who once fanned only four times in a 154-game season. Even Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, supposed creator of the sport and the man who fired the first Union shot of the Civil War, was not spared as Sewell referred to him as "Adm. Doubleday."
Nor surprisingly Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Red Smith of the New York Times, who received the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for distinguished service, held his own in the public yarn-spinning before a crowd of nearly 5,000.
Addressing himself to the "love-hate relationship between baseball and the press." Smith pointed out that without a century of newspaper coverage . . . this free promotion on a year-round daily basis . . . there would be no big TV contracts now, no Hall of Fame."
Smith concluded with typical self-deprecation: "I'd rather be a moose or a salmon because when they are stuffed and mounted it doesn't make them so nervous."
Rusie, who built a 245-174 pitching record in little more than eight full seasons between 1889 and 1901, was recalled by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as "the man with one of my all-time nicknames - "The Hoosier Thunderbolt."
However, many here today suspected that Rusie, who once sat out the 1896 season over a contract dispute, had little going for him beside his nickname and the nostalgia of the veterans committee.
Rusie's four consecutive seasons of 30 victories and his two 300-strikeout years in the 1890s seem less impressive when it is noted that he started from 47 to 63 games a year, pitched as many as 549 innings, often walked more than he fanned, and has seasons of 29-34, 31-31 and 23-23 in his supposed prime.
Not at all coincidentally, it was announced after the ceremony that the Hall of Fame's directors have asked Kuhn to "appoint a special committee to review the entire structure of the rules relating to elections."
Nevertheless, this was no day to quibble over the qualifications of old-timers dead for 35 years or Negro Leagues done out of their opportunity to try for the majors.
Banks, who hit 40 homers five times and won back-to-back most valuable player awards (1957-58), was the man of the hour.
"Words almost fail making this presentation . . . They call him Mr. Cub," began Kuhn. He concluded, "That sign (in the crowd) says what needs to be said, 'America Loves Ernie Banks.'"
And what did Ernie Banks love on this "happiest day of my life." The Cubs, naturally. "Those (Philadelphia) Phillies," said Banks, speaking of the one team ahead of his hot Cubs, "we gotta get 'em. They're comin' to town next week."