The annual Major League All-Star Game, traditional time for fun and frolic at the midway point in the pennant races, is going to be twice as traditional in 1959. Praised for 25 years as a wonderful exhibition on the one hand, and condemned as a silly exhibition on the other hand, it has suddenly become a wonderfully silly exhibition with two hands. Both of them are being held out for the public entertainment dollar.
Which, of course, is the idea. Operating on the theory that anything good, when doubled, is twice as good—and ignoring the possibility that something good, when cut in two, might not be even half so good—the players have elected to hold two All-Star games this summer. Act I takes place in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field next Tuesday. Act II moves into the Los Angeles Coliseum on August 3. The cast in both cases will be approximately the same. The beneficiaries will be identical.
It is nice that baseball fans on the West Coast are having the opportunity to see all the big stars perform now instead of awaiting their regular turn, which, in the normal course of events, might not come around until 1963 or 1972 or whenever Walter O'Malley gets all the tin cans and lawyers cleaned out of Chavez Ravine. But that is not why Act II is being introduced. The fans can look, out for themselves. The motive is frankly financial.
From the proceeds of the Los Angeles show, the players expect to collect almost a quarter-million dollars to help pay off indebtedness on their pension plan. The club owners realize nothing from this double feature except that it helps get the players off their necks when the time comes to split up the World Series radio and television loot. So everyone is happy. More or less. It is not certain now whether a third game will be scheduled to decide a 1959 All-Star champion should the National and American League squads split the first two games but, happily, there is an open date in both leagues on the third Thursday after Labor Day. This should do nicely, since the World Series will still be almost a week away.
This has all been settled for quite some time now, however, and anyone who objects to the idea of a second All-Star Game can stay away from the television set on August 3. Certainly the first game—that's the old one—looks as exciting as ever, and it couldn't have come at a better time, right in the middle of two hectic pennant races. The National League is used to this sort of thing, but the American League could stand a rest.
Not for years has there been such a scramble among five teams fighting for the lead and perhaps never have all eight teams been so closely bunched going into July. For two decades kings of the hill, the Yankees were clobbered often and early, fell into the cellar and are still struggling to get back up. Cleveland, off to an incredible start, has managed to hang on tenaciously. Baltimore, a have-not for years, now has, particularly pitching. Detroit lost 13 of its first 15 games, but now the Tigers are battling for the lead, too. And Chicago, perhaps the soundest team of all except that it can't hit home runs, keeps rattling around from first to fifth and stirring things up. This may be the year, says Frank Lane, when nobody wins the pennant.
The American League is winning something else, however. Fans. The Indians are up almost a quarter of a million in attendance over 1958 and the spectacle of the Yankees wallowing in the depths has already sent 160,000 extra paying customers pouring into the big stadium in The Bronx. Washington, too is doing very well; the Senators may not win any pennants but as long as they continue to attack league home run records, the crowds will come. As a matter of fact, the attendance of every team in the league has increased, with the exception of Detroit, which is now fast recovering from that miserable start, and Boston, which has not only been losing but losing without Ted Williams.
If this has been an American League year, however, the All-Star Game (Act I) should turn out to be close and exciting down to the last out. Almost never have two teams been selected which seem so nearly equal in ability. In fact, they are almost identical.
Eddie Mathews and Harmon Killebrew, the two home run leaders, will be playing opposite each other at third base. Johnny Temple and Nellie Fox are the same type competitor, whether at second or on the bases or at bat. Willie Mays and Al Kaline are vastly gifted center fielders, and each swings a big bat. Wally Moon and Minnie Minoso are alikes in left field, and the catchers, Del Crandall and Gus Triandos, have a general resemblance in their abilities. Bill Skowron and Orlando Cepeda, the rival first basemen, are big and strong and drive in a lot of runs. If there is an edge, it is slight and belongs to the National League.