Baseball All Star Game: First and Best

The AL won the 1948 Game in St. Louis, 5-2.

All Star Games were the brainchild of a Chicago newspaperman named Arch Ward, and this was back in the early 1930’s, when baseball was pretty much the only game in town and the true national pastime. There was no NBA back then and the NFL survived as hardly anything more than a minor diversion in a handful of midwestern and eastern cities in the dead winter months of a nation that had yet to taste the attractive lure of television. Major League Baseball, sixteen clubs that lived and played in the north from the Atlantic Ocean to St. Louis, plus hundreds of minor league clubs and thousands of semi-pro and amateur teams were the residence of America’s active investment in the game – and all other fan fannies found comfortable places to sit in thousands of great to rickety ballparks across the land.

Mr. Ward saw the intensity of rivalry that  existed between his own two home clubs, the AL Chicago White Sox and the NL Chicago Cubs, and he witnessed the fierce loyalty of each fan group and their equally intense hatred for their opposite numbers in the same city. It didn’t take him long to hatch his plan for an annual baseball all-star game that would capitalize on the appeal of such a contest and to gain support for holding the first MLB All Star Game in Chicago at Comiskey Park on July 6, 1933. Babe Ruth would hit the first home run in All Star Game history on that day and the AL would defeat the NL by a score of 4-2 before a large crowd.

From 1933 through 2010, eighty-one All Star Games have been played out in just about every ballpark that every city in the Big Leagues. Each league has enjoyed runs in which one club dominated for extended periods of time, but the running tally on games won today is about as even as it could be. The National League has won 40 games, the American League has taken 39 contests, and there have been two ties, one in 1961 and the most recent in 2002.

That last tie produced embarrassment too. Essentially, the game had to be stopped in extra innings as a 7-7 tie in Milwaukee on July 9, 2002 because both teams had used up all their pitchers earlier in service to the goal of getting everyone into the game. Commissioner Bud Selig had to make the call of stopping the game as a tie – and he had to do it in own back yard of Milwaukee. There was no place to hide or cover up the fact that baseball, under Selig’s watch, had not come into this situation with an adequate game plan for dealing with this kind of situation.

Disregarding the old adage that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” Commissioner Selig then followed the 2002 All Star mistake by pushing through a change in the All Star Game format. In an effort to make the game more about managers handling their personnel for the sake of winning, the All Star Game winner from 2003 forward  was anointed as the determining factor in which league club would enjoy home field advantage in the World Series.

I hated the new rule then and nothing has changed. Next to the Designated Hitter rule, the All Star Game power over the World Series is my second most hated variance from the traditions of baseball. I didn’t like the annual rotation of World Series home field advantage over giving the honor to the World Series club with the best season record, but even that formula seems more fair than the determination of that important edge by players who most probably will not be in the World Series themselves.

Having said that, I Still think the MLB All Star Game is a better contest than either its NFL or NBA counterparts. The NBA Game is little more than a basketball version of a non-stop home run contest or, borrowing from its own homer form, a non-stop slam dunk contest where it’s all about scoring with flair and playing no defense. The NFL all-star contest is little more than a sandlot game played at the end of the season as the Pro Bowl, using popular players who have survived the season among the walking wounded.

Three MLB All Star Games have been played here in Houston, in 1968, 1986, and 2004. The National League took the first one, 1-0, and the American League has captured the last two, 3-2 and 9-4. The first two of these Houston games were played at the Astrodome; the 2004 game took place at Minute Maid Park.

Over the years, baseball has tried various combinations for selecting their All Star rosters. 1957 proved that job could not be left up to the fans totally. That was the year that Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot boxes, assuring that their hometown Reds, deserved or not, would be the starting lineup for the National League at seven positions. Only first baseman Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals had survived the voting ruse. The travesty was obvious, and traceable to an organized scheme in Cincinnati to print an overwhelming number of ballots for use by Reds fans. The facts gave  the Commissioner easy, but also embarrassing grounds for intervening and making sure that seven Reds would not start for the National League in 1957. Commissioner Ford Frick appointed Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves to replace Reds outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post in the starting NL All Stars lineup.

The Cincinnati debacle of 1957 resulted in the vote being taken away from the fans until 1970. Until that time, managers, coaches, and players picked the teams, a system I would prefer to the Internet fan-blitz voting en mass we have returned to use through 2011. Let the field personnel pick the position players from their peer opponent teams of their same league. Let the All Star manager pick his own choice group of healthy, deserving, and available pitchers. And forget about fans picking their Mendoza Line (.200 BA) favorites for positions they do not deserve this year – no matter how great they have been in the past. Then play the game as a real game. Don’t substitute to showcase unless you want each club to carry a roster of fifty players each into the game.

And please ditch that hogwash award of World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the All Star Game. While you’re at it, give that deserved advantage to the league champion who finishes with the best season record. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out the tie-breaker rules that will govern those years when two teams enter the World Series with identical records.

OK, so as baseball fans, we retain the right to dream on, form opinions, and make recommendations to all the baseball moguls who get paid the big bucks to do right by baseball on purpose. We don’t expect you to be perfect. We jut want to see you get it right more often than not. The All Star Game will never be perfect either, but imperfect as it may be, the Baseball All Star Game remains as the first and best of its kind. I believe we can make it better by taking the voting away from Internet geeks and ditching that bogus connection of the All Star Game to the World Series. Fans will still support the game, if they know the most qualified judges, the players, managers, and coaches themselves, are picking the best rosters based on current year productivity.

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7 Responses to “Baseball All Star Game: First and Best”

  1. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: I agree with your positions on the All Star game. Where did you get the 1948 ticket? That was the only All Star game played in Sportsman’s Park with the Browns as the host team.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Wayne: Someone sent me a copy of the ticket awhile back. Wish I had the actual ticket itself, but I do not possess it. And, yes, that 1948 contest was the only All Star Game that the Browns ever hosted.

  2. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Bill: The best of the All Star games seem to have been the 1941, 1950, 1954 and 1955 games. The rivalry between the leagues was very intense, perhapa because the Yankees almost always won the World Series.

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