All-Star Reflections

July 14, 2014

All-Star Reflections

MLB’s 85th All-Star game will be played Tuesday night in Minneapolis. It is a mid-season tradition that began in 1933 when the two major leagues were truly distinct and only competed against each other in the Fall Classic, the World Series. That is why the All-Star Game ultimately came to be called the Mid-Season Classic.

The idea for the inaugural game was conceived by Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, as a one-time event to incorporate major league baseball in another of Chicago’s World’s Fairs. The owners from each league approved the idea primarily to boost interest in the game as attendance had decreased significantly during the economic depression. Promoted to the public as the “Game of the Century,” the owners also sought to gain favor with the players by donating the gate receipts to the players’ retirement fund.

On July 6, 1933, 47,595 fans filled Comiskey Park (that’s Old Comiskey to us today), which was selected over Wrigley Field by a coin flip (insert Cubs joke here). The fans witnessed 38 year-old Babe Ruth hit a two-run home run that provided the winning runs for the AL.

Twenty of the thirty-six players in that first game would eventually be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, which no doubt added substance to the novelty of the event. The reviews were universally positive. Babe Ruth himself observed: “Wasn’t it swell? Wasn’t it a great idea? And we won the game, besides!”

You might think that Ward arranged for Ruth to hit the very first all-star home run, but that would be an uncharitable suggestion given the history of Comiskey Park and suspicious play.  Fortunately even Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who was still commissioner 15 years after the Black Sox Scandal,  saw the benefit of repeating the game and the next year it was officially adopted by both leagues as an annual event. Subsequently, Arch Ward’s efforts to promote the original game were rewarded when the all-star game’s most valuable player trophy was named for him in 1962. Unfortunately for Mr. Ward, that honor has since been withdrawn and bestowed on Ted Williams, although baseball fans can hardly argue with that decision. In an interesting historical coincidence, Ward died on July 9, 1958, just days prior to the All-Star game, and the game was delayed briefly so that many players and owners could attend his funeral.

The legacy of Ward’s “Game of the Century” lives on, without him personally or even his name on the MVP trophy. The NL has won 43 times, the AL has won 39, and there have been 2 ties. The game was not played in 1945 at the conclusion of WWII, but two games were played each year from 1959- 1962 as the players sought to add additional funds to their retirement plan. Interest in the game remains high, but certainly in a different fashion from those early days.  It has certainly changed even since the early 1970’s when there was still only one nationally televised game each week.

My personal childhood interest was fostered by the opportunity to see the different uniforms of each team. I’ll never forget thinking we needed to adjust our family’s new color TV set when Reggie Jackson strolled to the plate in the bright green and gold of Oakland, and with white shoes! The colors were electric even as just trim on the A’s Sunday uniform. They must have provided some additional power for this amazing home run:

Today, of course, we can watch every single game every night of the season and thereby see all the teams and all of their uniforms even though most teams now have 5 or 6 versions. With the successive advent of cable television, free agency, interleague play and internet broadcasts, the novelty of players from one league competing against the players of another league has obviously been eliminated. However, the concept of the greatest players in the game competing against each other continues to be appealing. This is so even if the current selection of “greatest” players almost certainly does not include twenty future members of the Hall of Fame. (I see only one certain inductee in this game – Derek Jeter.  Several others may be on their way, but it is simply too early in their careers to tell – Cabrera? Kershaw? Trout?).

Even in this time of transition among its elite players, baseball continues to be sport’s greatest game in my opinion, bigger than any one great player or even all the greatest players from any one generation. It is the game itself that I love to watch, and the entrance and exit of certain players, no matter how talented or charismatic, will not diminish my enjoyment of this special edition of its beauty, which sometimes presents itself in unexpected form.

Like in life, beauty in baseball can have a dark expression. Can anyone doubt that it was Pete Rose’s love of the game and athletic competition that caused him to risk his own already legendary career and essentially end the promising one of Ray Fosse with this play to win the 1970 All-Star game?  And that was before the tagline “This One Counts” was adopted as a result of the Commissioner’s decision to award home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game.

The desire to be among the best at what you do, and then to be the best of the best (even if for just one night), is a basic human instinct.  Certainly it transcends baseball, but when added to baseball’s inherent beauty, it creates a spectacle that I don’t want to miss.

© (JSR – 2014)