With the latest All Star game less than 24 hours old, Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday contributor here, devotes his latest guest post to what’s gone awry with the mid-season contest.
Mercifully, the All Star Game is over. Like the Sunday and holiday doubleheader about which I wrote last time, the mid-summer classic was once a highlight of the baseball season.
Now its a misguided affair that has little appeal to old school fans like me.
I’ll sum up in one word what’s wrong with the All Star Game: everything.
Among its multitude of problems are allowing twenty-five votes each to the fans, expanding rosters, issuing contractual bonuses up to $100,000 for certain participating players and awarding the World Series home field advantage to the winning league. Other quirky and constantly evolving rules and regulations keep fans in the dark from one year to the next.
During baseball’s Golden Age, which I broadly define as 1920-1960, the All Star Game provided a rare opportunity for fans to watch the greatest National League players go head to head against the American League. Often, the game generated a lifetime of memories. But with inter-league competition completed only two weeks ago, there’s nothing special about seeing Derek Jeter on the same field as Ryan Howard.
As for the State Farm Home Run Derby, the less I say, the better. Three hours of pre-derby shilling, followed by three hours of batting practice and concluding with an hour of post-derby feigned excitement by the “analysts” doesn’t do it for me.
If television wants to give its derby rating a real boost, have the players’ mothers pitch to them. The degree of difficulty would be the same!
In 1960, a made-for-television derby had some serious sluggers going at it. Among them were future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Duke Snider.
Even the second tier contestants were imposing: Gil Hodges, Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. (See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNxMH7xo47I)
Major League Baseball could easily rectify the errors its made over the last several years that have reduced the All Star Game’s appeal. However, the only likely changes will further commercialize the game or add to the circus-like atmosphere that already surrounds it.
Baseball was not always so slow to act when faced with an obviously flawed product.
From 1959 through 1962, two All Star Games were played. Although fans immediately criticized the idea because it cheapened the summer classic’s excitement, baseball bureaucrats pressed on.
The starting line up was chosen by a poll among players, managers and coaches with the restriction that no player could vote for a teammate. (Note to MLB: please return to this system.)
For the second of the two All Star games, squads were allowed to add three players and the managers could alter their pitching staffs.
During 1959, the experiment worked fairly well. Pittsburgh hosted the first game and Los Angeles, the second. Because the California contest had 4 P.M. PDT/7 P.M. EDT start time, the All Star Game for the first time had a truly national television audience.
But by the very next year, the two game novelty had worn off. MLB decided to play both games within a two-day break (July 11 and July 13) instead of one month apart as it did in 1959.
The second 1960 All Star game held in Yankee Stadium drew a paltry 38, 362 fans; the first in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium had a 30, 000 capacity crowd.
By 1963, fans were so disenchanted with two times All Star Games that even when it returned to a single annual contest attendance suffered. With Cleveland as the host, only 44,000 showed up in cavernous Municipal Stadium.
During the four years that two All Star Games were held, three of baseball’s greatest players participated in both: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Stan Musial.
Interestingly, those eight appearances allowed the three greats to retire with a curious line in their baseball biographies.
Each played in more All Star Games that they had years in their careers.
All had 24 All Star appearances. Mays and Musial achieved them over 22 seasons; Aaron, 23.
And not surprisingly, Mays, Musial and Aaron hold the All Star records in most of the key offensive categories: at bats, Mays, 75; extra base hits, Mays and Musial, 8; hits, Mays, 23; home runs, Musial, 6; pinch hits, Musial, 3; runs, Mays, 20; total bases, Mays and Musial, 40 and triples, Mays, 3 (tied with Brooks Robinson)
Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.