By Ted Gay – @TedG63
We have arrived at the All-Star break when players go home to relax, and fans experience the nightly withdrawals from baseball without even a World Team Tennis match to salve our lust for the day to day drama baseball brings.
Worse, on Monday and Tuesday, baseball grandly celebrates itself via the All-Star Game, an exhibition which increasingly shines a light on everything bad about baseball.
The All-Star exhibition is slow moving because it is crammed with commercials, pitching dominated (in the last ten years the losing team has averaged 1.7 runs a contest), filled with pitching changes, and multiple substitutions leading to the game’s best players being on the bench in late innings while power relievers overwhelm the bottom of the bench.
In my youth, during the 70’s, the All-Star game still meant something, but changes off the field forever changed the game on it.
The first was free agency. Bound by the reserve clause players were helpless to move from team to team. Once free agency began, in 1976, the chances of an all-star moving from one organization to the next greatly increased, as did the lower market teams trading players due to big contracts for prospects. Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Rick Porcello, and David Price (for better or worse) would not be in Boston without free agency, and Trot Nixon would have been the only familiar name on the 2004 roster.
The second was cable television. Red Sox fans were lucky if games were broadcast three times a week, and, outside of the NBC Game of the Week, you were not seeing players from the National League. There was no Sports Center either. Highlights were given five minutes on the nightly news. The All-Star game may have been you’re only opportunity to see Pete Rose, Steve Carlton or Willie Mays.
The third was the 1981 player’s strike. When the strike ended baseball came back with an All-Star game at the Mistake on the Lake. Beating the other league in an exhibition game was no longer the players’ objective, beating the owners was. Getting one turn at bat and escaping uninjured was the goal. The passion was completely sucked from the game.
The fourth was in 1997 when interleague play began. Before then, even with the cable being able to catch a game with Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa was a rare treat. Now you could see them by flicking on NESN. The allure of tuning in the All-Star game to see someone you had never seen was dead. The mystery was over.
The fifth was the Bud Selig classic in 2002 when the owner’s choice for commissioner defined his term by completely botching the All-Star classic at his home park in Milwaukee. The game ended in a 7-7 tie when Bob Brenly and Joe Torre burned through pitchers and yucked it up with the announcers before anyone realized the game was tied and the bullpen empty. In the aftermath, Selig tried to make the game meaningful by putting home field in the World Series on the line, but it didn’t matter. What we expected was confirmed. The game meant nothing.
I still remember watching All-Star games that were events. Seeing Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente in the same outfield; Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse to score the winning run; Reggie Jackson hitting an enormous home run into the upper deck in Tiger Stadium, the anticipation of seeing Mark Fidrych manicuring the mound and talking to the baseball, and Fred Lynn’s grand slam off of Atlee Hammaker.
Those were the days when you watched the All-Star game to see someone you had never seen before and witness greatness. I have seen every member of the starting lineups this year except for Brandon Crawford, and I am not watching the game just to see Brandon Crawford.
In Almost Famous Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs tells Patrick Fugit’s William Miller, regarding rock’n’roll, “too bad, you missed it.” That’s how I feel about later generations and the All-Star game. “Too bad, you missed it.” Back in the day, it was certainly a sight to see.
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EPISODE 63!!!
ALL THREE OF US GIVE LETTER GRADES (A to F) FOR THE ROTATION, BULLPEN, LINEUP, ALEX CORA, & DOMBROWSKI!
WE ALSO DISCUSS THE TRADE DEADLINE!