It ain't what it used to be
Today's game is more about big-event marketing and less about baseball's stars playing with pride.
By Dan George
Baseball's All-Star Game used to be the greatest event of its kind in any sport. And it wasn't even close.
The NBA All-Star Game? A hiccup in the Celtics and Lakers' annual march to the Finals. The NHL? Everybody was named Jean and Jacque and Maurice. The NFL? Hey, nothing more interesting than a nice game of touch.
But baseball's midsummer classic -- that was the stuff of legends.
Carl Hubbell striking out five future Hall of Famers in a row in 1934. Ted Williams returning from World War II to whack Rip Sewell's "eephus" pitch into the cheap seats in 1946. Cincinnati fans stuffing the ballot box in 1957. Pete Rose breaking catcher Ray Fosse's shoulder in a fierce home-plate collision in 1970. Garry Templeton on his 1981 All-Star prospects: "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin'."
Sadly, though, the All-Star Game just ain't what it used to be. Oh, it's still fun and the players are as talented as ever. But it's just another diversion now, no longer a real event.
You know the reason, of course: Interleague play. For the true baseball fan, there are no two more disgusting words in the English language.
Once, the All-Star Game was a true rivalry. Baseball was the only pro sport with two separate leagues, each with its own personality. The AL was the curveball league, the NL the fastball league. The AL had Mantle and Yaz and Reggie, the NL had Willie and Hank and Roberto. Player or fan, you were an American Leaguer or a National Leaguer. And the All-Star Game and the World Series were your two big chances for bragging rights.
Thanks to interleague play, that mystique is gone. No more wondering how Derek Jeter will fare mano a mano against Curt Schilling. Been there, done that. Just a couple of weeks ago.
Oh, baseball has tried to pump it up with bells and whistles like the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby. Heck, this year there was even an All-Star concert. We all know nothing says baseball like the Counting Crows.
The All-Star Game used to mean something. Stan Musial wouldn't miss one for the world -- he played in 24 straight! Now? Well, maybe Randy Johnson has the right idea. Maybe we should just take three days off.
The game still has it
The best are still the best; let's not pretend the game means less because it's not broadcast in black and white.
By Jacob Luft
Some people will never let go of yesteryear.
They want to sit you on their laps like grandpa used to and explain why things were so much better back in the old days, when they had to walk five snowy miles up a hill to get to school, and five miles back up the same hill to get home.
With any luck, they could avoid the fire-breathing dragons and Mongolian invaders.
They say the All-Star Game has lost its luster. That unfettered free agency has diluted the honor of representing your league. That interleague play sucks the intrigue out of the Midsummer Classic.
These are the same people who still drink Coke in a glass bottle. They refer to motion pictures as "talkies." The 21st century was thrust upon them like one of those "Surprise Snake Nut Cans." If they had it their way, players still would take the field without gloves. (If it were up to Royals apologist Dan George over there, the calendar would always read 1985 and nobody would ever question whether Jorge Orta was safe.)
These people have to understand something: Times change. People change. Baseball changes.
There is at least one thing that does remain the same, though. When the 73rd annual All-Star Game begins tonight, it will be a collection of the best baseball players in the world (give or take a Jim Thome or Larry Walker). Just like it was in 1933 and 1956 and 1990, it will be today.
Once the first pitch is thrown, fans won't be thinking, "Gee, this would really be cool if the Cubs and White Sox hadn't played those six games earlier this year." Is that what you thought when Cal Ripken hit that incredible home run in his final All-Star Game last season? Or when Pedro Martinez struck out five of the six batters he faced in 1999 at Fenway Park?
You don't have to go back to Fred Lynn's grand slam in 1983 or Carl Hubbell whiffing an entire wing of the Hall of Fame in 1934 to find magical All-Star moments.
Chances are there will be more made tonight, when the best players in the world are on the same field at the same time.