There was a time when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was a special event.
Fans were eager to see the superstars of the National League and American League compete on one field in one special game. But interleague play, which began in 1997, put the kibosh on that.
Here’s Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder Ron Gant’s reaction, shared by many, to interleague play: “To match the Phillies and Orioles in the regular season is to store your milk in the cupboard. The game is curdling. It has already curdled! What once was a special pastime is now a soulless contrivance….”
Interleague baseball killed the All-Star Game, and the commissioner’s office buried it with pointless add-ons like the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby and poor taste’s nadir, the Red Carpet Show. None of the gimmicks that segue into the game help viewership which has been in freefall for years. The 2022 Midsummer Classic drew an all-time low of 7.5 million viewers. During the 1990s, the television audience routinely exceeded 20 million.
Fans disappointed in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s heavy-handedness in altering how the traditional game had been played for decades – the universal designated hitter and the ghost runner in extra innings are two glaring examples – should brace themselves. Within the next few years, Manfred, determined to drive a stake into traditional baseball’s heart, envisions a complete MLB overhaul.
The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers would no longer be in the same division. Ditto the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. Manfred’s scheme is dependent on the Oakland A’s moving to Las Vegas and Tampa Bay building a new stadium. Once those two steps are completed, Charlotte and Nashville will be awarded new franchises. They’ll be uncompetitive for years.
As Manfred sees baseball, revenue is everything, and the game’s rich history is inconsequential. The average team’s value is $2.1 billion; the New York Yankees’ value tops the list at $6 billion.
To appreciate lost history, turn the calendar back to 1946 when a baseball-starved nation welcomed back World War II heroes, many of them future Hall of Famers, who would play in Fenway Park’s All-Star Game, the site of the canceled 1945 tilt. The National League’s squad included Johnny Mize, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Pee Wee Reese. On the American League roster were the DiMaggio brothers – Joe and Dom – Bob Feller and Ted Williams.
All 35,000 eyes were on Williams, a Marine Corp Naval Aviator. Fans wondered if “The Kid,” Williams’ preferred nickname, could pick up where he left off in 1942, his last year before his active service began. Williams went four for four in that All-Star Game, and became the first player to drive in five runs in a single game as the American League dominated, 12-0.
The Kid’s two home runs, two singles and a walk accounted for 10 total bases, a still-standing All-Star Game record. One of Ted’s blasts came off of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Rip Sewell’s eephus pitch, a soft, parabolic lob that soared 30 feet off the ground before it floated back to earth. Sewell’s pitch and Ted’s homer provided the fans with comic relief during the rout.
Out in Ted’s hometown of San Diego, his mother May and her Union Street neighbors listened to Mel Allen call the game. When asked how she felt about her son becoming the first player to drive in five runs in an All-Star Game, the devoted Salvation Army volunteer said: “All my prayers were answered. The game was perfectly marvelous…Ted’s a wonderful boy.”
May’s prayers, however, didn’t prevent 1946 from ending on a sour note for the Red Sox and Ted. In the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals bested the Sox 4-3, and in his only World Series appearance held The Kid to a measly .200 batting average.
A humiliated, humbled Williams looked back on the World Series as the lowest point in his otherwise glorious career.
Copyright 2023 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers’ Association member. Contact him at [email protected].