The All-Star Game

I’ve always loved baseball’s All-Star Game. It’s one of the many things the game has done almost perfectly, and no other sport has been able to successfully copy it.

Last night’s game was great–entertaining, poignant, exciting, and really well-played, which is what you expect when you get 68 of the game’s best together in one place. I wasn’t a fan of the changes made to the game three years ago, but they’ve turned out to make the game fun and yet very competitive. And that’s only made it better.

Baseball got it right by placing the All-Star Game in the middle of the season. It’s a natural break point in what always is a long six-month campaign. Players get a few days off, fans get to shift focus briefly, and then everyone dives headlong into the second “half” of the season, making the run to the playoffs. It’s also a great time to have the game because a young player might make a strong break from Spring training and deserve a chance to play, as a few did last night: there were a couple of 20 and 21-year-old players on the rosters last night. Football only plays their at the end of the season, and everyone’s afraid of getting hurt or actually putting effort into the game. So their game is a frightful bore.

Baseball also got it right to have the leagues play against each other. While this had more meaning especially in the days when the National and American Leagues were actually separate entities, and more recently, before interleague play, it gave fans that brief moment to ask and answer seemingly improbable questions, like could DiMaggio or Williams get any hits off of Warren Spahn, or, after the advent of the Designated Hitter, could the AL successfully play NL ball? Since the only other time to see this kind of play was during the World Series, this single game, plopped in the middle of a season, went a long way to answering those questions.

Baseball also got it right by letting the fans elect the starting players for both teams. Sure, it’s had its problems, like the ballot box stuffing for the Reds in 1957, which caused fan balloting to stop until 1970, but for the most part, it’s managed to ensure a fair collection of players on the teams: big markets don’t always get the team stacked in their favor, since the manager gets to select the remainder of the team. The game also got it right by requiring at least one representative from each team. That way, every fan out there had “their guy” to cheer for. Basketball can’t do that in their game. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get excited to watch the Twins’ only player finally make it to the plate in the All-Star Game when I was a kid, though pretty much every year for most of the ’70s it was Rod Carew, but I was thrilled when Butch Wynegar finally made it in 1976. He was my favorite Twin of that time. When Roy Smalley made it as our sole representative in 1979, you knew that was probably a bad omen, especially since Carew made it, but he was with the Angels that season.

The game lost some of its spark over the years, becoming nothing more than a chance to players to goof around and have fun, and this may have caused the tie in 2002. After that, the game “would count,” or so goes the marketing of it. The winning league gets to have home field advantage in the World Series, and in the last couple of years, that’s become an important thing. And last night, it was kind of fun to watch Jim Leyland managing the game to win, mainly because his team–the Detroit Tigers–stands a good chance of claiming that home field advantage.

But these games also celebrate the great players, and also the really good–good as in good people–players. The moment last night when Mariano Rivera came in was moving, and like him or hate the fact that he’s a Yankee, you have to respect and admire that. He’s probably the greatest closer the game will ever see, and with his announced retirement at season’s end, he got the reception someone with that title deserves. These games also celebrate, so much more than most other baseball games, the history of the game. They’ve only been played since 1933, and while there were a few years with two All-Star Games, there still haven’t been a hundred of them.

Sure, it’s disappointing that one of the two Twins who made the trip didn’t get to play, but Glen Perkins was at the end of the bullpen depth chart, and you kind of figured he’d only see action in an NL blowout, or if the game went into extra innings. Rivera had to pitch, so the 8th inning was his all along. And the starter usually goes two innings. So there just isn’t much room left. But I still get excited about the game every single year. And, thanks to a brilliant 3-0 win by the AL last night, and the fact that it’s coming here next year, I’m that much more excited.

Now…How to get tickets that will be impossible to find?

See you tomorrow.