By David Mullen
On Tuesday, July 17, the best baseball players in the world will hit the field at Nationals Park in the Navy Yard district of Washington, D.C. for the 89th annual All-Star Game. The game was created in 1933 to coincide with the World’s Fair in Chicago. The first game was played at Comiskey Park and was meant to be a one-time event. It has survived because it is the best exhibition game in any sport.
As the NFL, NBA and NHL are constantly making modifications or considering eliminating their All-Star Games entirely, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game lives on. Unfortunately, Comiskey Park lost to a bulldozer in 1990.
Nationals Park is not particularly distinctive, falling in the category of the latest wave of cookie-cutter ballparks like Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and St. Louis’ Busch Stadium. But the field will be filled with unique players and potential memorable moments.
There is a lot to look forward to on Tuesday. The American League’s starting outfield will have three players in their mid-20s. Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Boston Red Sox’s Mookie Betts are the future of baseball. Shin-Soo Choo, the Texas Rangers lone All-Star Game representative, becomes the first Korean-born position player in All-Star Game history. But let’s look into the past, and recall some great moments in All-Star Game history.
“It’s off the roof.” That was what NBC Sports announcer Curt Gowdy said of the home run hit by Oakland A’s superstar Reggie Jackson in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit. It remains the loudest crack of the bat that I have ever heard. If there were today’s measurement standards back then, I am sure that the homer would have been measured at more than 500 feet. Six home runs were hit in the game by Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Bench, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson. All six players are in baseball’s Hall of Fame, as is Gowdy.
“Ouch.” In the 1970 All-Star Game in Houston’s Astrodome, Cincinnati’s Pete Rose ran over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse at home plate for the deciding run in extra innings to give the National League a win. While Fosse had no fractures or other damage, he was never the same player after the collision, but would go on to win a World Series championship with Oakland in 1973 and 1974.
“The greatest hitter of all-time.” In 1999 at Fenway Park in Boston, Ted Williams was honored in a pregame ceremony that brought tears to baseball fans across the nation. The ceremony introduced the All-Century Team comprised of the game’s biggest legends. Williams, relegated to a golf cart, threw out the first pitch. Even in the presence of Aaron, Willie Mays and Williams’ favorite player Tony Gwynn, it was a day to honor the “Splendid Splinter” who played his entire career with the Red Sox and died in 2002.
“Keep cool with Cal.” At Seattle’s Safeco Field in 2001, 19-time All-Star and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was in his final season. He was elected to the All-Star team as a third baseman, although he primarily played shortstop throughout his Baltimore Orioles career.
When the host American League team ran out on the field in the first inning, Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez waved Ripken over to play short while Rodriguez went to third. In an American League 4-1 win, Ripken won the game’s MVP award with a homer in the bottom of the third. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda got hit in the gut by a flying bat while coaching third base. It was a great day and I was sitting on the first base line and out of the range of errant bats.
“Tie goes to the commissioner.” In 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Minnesota Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in the greatest catch in All-Star Game history. But the play was overshadowed by Commissioner Bud Selig’s declaration to end the game in the 11th inning as a 7-7 tie after both teams ran out of pitchers.
So buy some peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Tuesday’s game may not mean anything, but it could provide some memorable moments.