It's getting harder to remember when the All-Star Game really meant something. With the annual roll-up to the midseason break, you get the feeling that the chance for three days off matters more to the participants than the game itself. Whitey Herzog once said, "The only bad thing about winning the pennant is that you have to manage the All-Star Game the next year." Which, apparently, is even worse than having to play in it or watch it. Does anyone over the age of nine really care about the game anymore?
We certainly used to. All-Star Game lore resides on the top shelf of blessed memory: Carl Hubbell striking out five straight future Hall of Famers in 1934, Ted Williams launching Rip Sewell's blooper pitch toward Venus in '46, Stu Miller getting blown off the mound by the Candlestick Park winds in '61. The game was a capital-E Event, the pivot point of the entire season. The selection of the lineups was itself annual cause for raging controversy.
Never was this clearer than in 1957, when the process became front-page news. With the civic boosterism that newspapers used to love to wallow in, the Cincinnati Times-Star daily printed an All-Star ballot bearing the exhortation VOTE OFTEN—VOTE EARLY. (This was long before the punch cards that now share space with spilled beer and peanut shells beneath every seat in every major league stadium.) And, it urged, LET'S BACK THE REDLEGS.
Cincinnatians rose to the occasion in a spasm of ballot-box stuffing that placed seven local heroes in the eight National League starting positions chosen by the fans. As alarmed as any political boss who doesn't like the outcome of an election he's supposed to control, commissioner Ford Frick voided the selection of Cincinnati outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post, and sent to St. Louis in their place a couple of guys named Mays and Aaron. This, in turn, led an inflamed citizenry in Cincinnati to drag an effigy of Frick around town, threaten a lawsuit and loudly decry the commissioner's "Soviet tactics"—perfectly appropriate in that nervous cold war period when the Reds had actually been renamed the Redlegs, lest anyone mistake their loyalties.
It's difficult to imagine a whole city getting caught up in such a campaign now. Today, the All-Star Game is pale, incidental, missable. The old motivation for the players—stocking their pension fund, the traditional beneficiary of the game's receipts—hardly inspires men who make enough money in one year-to last a lifetime. For the fans, interleague play and the ubiquity of superstation baseball have punctured the novelty of seeing the other league's stars. And the requirement that every franchise be represented on its league's All-Star roster may have had its virtues when there were only 16 major league teams, but a soup that has to be stocked from 30 sources gets pretty thin.
Or if you prefer a different food comparison, there's—the damning-with-faint-praise one suggested by third baseman Gary Gaetti when he was asked in 1988 to summarize the thrill of playing in his first All-Star Game: "Ifs right up there with lobster."