It wasn’t always necessary to add artificial significance to the All-Star Game, as in awarding World Series home-field advantage to the winning league.
Before interleague play, and before the NFL and other sports pushed baseball down off its pedestal, the rare treat of seeing great heroes collide in new and otherwise impossible combinations was significant enough.
Where else would you see an American League Cy Young winner pitch against a National League batting champion, unless it was in the World Series?
Hey, for the sports-obsessed kid I used to be in the barren world before cable TV, it was like watching Godzilla vs. King Kong fight it out to see who was toughest. Not in Tokyo, though, or in the jungle, but on a neutral field.
The old-timers talk about the 1934 All-Star game as the classic match of power on power. Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin that day. All Hall of Famers and all five in a row.
Well, I’m an old goat, too, it seems, or at least I’m going to sound like one by saying my favorite All-Star Game was in 1971.
Home runs were hit that night at the old Tiger Stadium by the following players – Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson. Oh, and Reggie’s moonball struck a light standard on the roof of the stadium or else it might still be going.
The score (AL won 6-4) didn’t matter to me but the game sure did.
Baseball has tinkered with this format so many times. There even was a period from 1959-1962 when two All-Star games were played each summer. Watered the competition down, of course, just like going to interleague play during the regular season eliminated most of the mystique.
I’ll be watching Tuesday night, though, for at least the first three innings.
Takes me back to baseball’s heyday, which must have been mine, too. Sure was fun pretending to be Vida Blue or Carl Yastrzemski with the other neighborhood kids.
Don’t let anybody try to tell you this Home Run Derby stuff is new, either. We used to play it from dawn until dusk, or until the mosquitoes chased us in. Only needed two players, too, if the others wimped out.
We leaned an old refrigerator door up against a tree. If a pitch got past a batter and hit the door, anywhere at all, the loud clang signaled an undisputed strike. (The neighbors must have loved that.) You struck out and drew walks like that, with imaginary runners taking their places on imaginary bases.
A home run was anything over the power line in left field, or across the street in center, or over the house in right, with the TV antenna on the roof serving as the foul pole. Anything else was an out.
Keep it simple and you’re better off. The guys who run baseball should know that if they don’t know anything else.