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All-Star Laments




You won't readily recognize these numbers, but they're the scores of the last three All-Star games for the NBA, NFL, and NHL, respectively.

Actually the NHL score is from 2015. After that folly, the league decided upon a new three-on-three format. It got that bad.

These are not true All-Star games where effort comes close to matching regular season or even preseason contests. Instead they are scrimmages between talented athletes where offense rules while defense receives about as much attention as Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. In other words, playing goalkeeper in an NHL All-Star game is tantamount to being a pheasant in October.

Which brings us to what used to be called baseball's Summer or Midseason Classic, when the pride of each league was at stake beginning in 1933 at Comiskey Park. The game was the brainchild of Tribune sportswriter Arch Ward, hence the first contest was held in Chicago. Fittingly, Babe Ruth clubbed the first home run in All-Star history at the South Side ballpark.

Today's All-Star games have evolved into warm, fuzzy gatherings of man-hugging, fist-bumping union comrades, taking part in orchestrated events with undercards such as made-for-TV slam-dunk contests and home run derbies. Television ratings, especially for football's Pro Bowl - a meaningless, boring three hours - and the NHL game have slumped in recent years. The only real drama is finding a venue large enough to accommodate the massive egos of the participants.

Maybe because it enjoys a longer history, baseball's All-Star game, which will be played Tuesday in San Diego, has a number of iconic moments. Arguably the greatest was 1955 when Stan Musial's walk-off 12th-inning home run gave the National League a 6-5 win in a game where the American League held a 5-0 advantage going into the seventh inning.

The National League dominated the 1950s, winning seven of 11 contests (for some long-forgotten reason, MLB featured two All-Star games in 1959 through 1962) due primarily to the dominance of African American ballplayers who sprinkled the rosters of the NL clubs, while their AL brethren were far slower to sign black players. When you had guys like Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Bill White and Vada Pinson on your roster, all the manager had to say was, "Go play," and victory was almost always assured.

Former Commissioner Bud Selig had to make up for the embarrassment of 2002 when the game ended in a tie, so this Tuesday's game will determine home field advantage in October's World Series, which makes absolutely no sense.

All-star contests of yesteryear had a far more competitive edge. With an absence of interleague play, each league was determined to show the fans that their circuit was superior. Honor was at stake.

Pete Rose's dash home in the 1970 game has been viewed a half-billion times on YouTube as Charlie Hustle ran over catcher Ray Fosse, separating and fracturing Fosse's shoulder while giving the National League a 5-4, 12-inning victory. Fosse, 23 at the time, went on to play nine more seasons, but never at the level before Rose turned himself into a human missile.

(You might say justice prevailed. Fosse has broadcast Oakland A's game for the past 30 years while the unrepentant Rose, the All-Time leader in hits, has been banned from the game for almost as long.)

You think rounding third base Rose thought, "Geez, this is just an exhibition game. I'll try to go around the catcher?" Or Fosse, seeing Rose bearing down on him, concluded, "Oh, boy, I better get out of the way. Pete means business." The play would have developed the exact same way if it had been the seventh game of the World Series.

That also was true at Comiskey Park in 1950 when Ted Williams crashed into the bricks of the left field wall while hauling in a drive off the bat of Ralph Kiner in the first inning. Williams knew he was hurt - turned out he had fractured his elbow - but he remained in the game through nine innings, picking up a hit and an RBI in a contest eventually won by the National League on a home run by Red Schoendienst in the 14th.

Furthermore, following surgery, Williams returned to the Red Sox as a pinch hitter on September 7th and was back in left field by the middle of the month, getting four hits in the first game he started after the injury. Good thing he didn't tweak an oblique or pull a hammie, in which case Teddy Ballgame might have missed the rest of the season.

Tuesday's game already has taken a weird twist with a National League starting infield of all Cubs. Before their recent descent back to Earth, multitudes of Cub fans, most of whom are non-historians, figured their darlings were a shoo-in for the World Series.

Why, then, would a Cub fan vote for Addison Russell over, say, the Dodgers' Corey Seager, who's hitting close to .300 with 17 homers? And wouldn't the Nationals' second baseman Daniel Murphy, the league's leading hitter, give the NL a stronger team if he had been voted in ahead of the Cubs' Ben Zobrist?

After all, home field advantage in the freakin' World Series is at stake here! If I were a Cub fan, I'd sure want to do anything I could to ensure that the sixth and seventh games, if necessary, would be played at Clark and Addison. In the short-term Cub fans can bask in the glory of having most of their team, which has lost 15 of its last 21 games, open the All-Star game against the creme de la creme from the AL.

The second-fiddle White Sox haven't been huge participants in recent All-Star contests.

This season is no different, with only the tandem of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana representing the Sox, who enter the break at 44-42 after being shut out 2-0 Sunday by the last-place Atlanta Braves. Quintana was added to the roster on Sunday after Cleveland's Danny Salazar was scratched because of "mild elbow discomfort," which is what Ted Williams experienced back in 1950 when he crashed into that outfield wall and then kept playing for nine innings.

Sale, who was ineffective last Friday en route to an 11-8 loss to the Braves, figures to be the AL's starting pitcher because of his 14-3 record. This is not good news because 1) Sale has given up 12 earned runs in as many innings in his last two starts so possibly he's a little tired and could use the rest, and 2) the Sox are scheduled to play the Cubs four games in a couple of weeks, and there is no upside for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and their teammates to get a preview look at the Sox ace.

By losing two of three over the weekend to Atlanta, the Sox' streak of five straight series wins came to a halt. The Sox are 5-4 in July. In three of those losses the Sox were blanked. If Robin Ventura were the most interesting manager in baseball, he might proclaim, "We don't often lose, but when we do, we prefer to be shut out."

The Sox turned the tables last Wednesday, blanking the Yankees 5-0 in the deciding game of that three-game set at The Cell. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez was outstanding, pitching seven innings while allowing only five hits, which, by the way, is the number of hits the White Sox mustered for the entire afternoon.

The Sox offense continues to be inconsistent and undependable. If they have any hope of gaining on first-place Cleveland - the Sox are seven games behind - or overcoming a four-game deficit in the wild card race, they'll need to be far more efficient in moving runners along and scoring them. Avi Garcia is hitting a measly .232 with five homers as the team's primary DH. Former MVP Justin Morneau was signed to provide some help in that department, but he's just 2-for-17 at Charlotte as he attempts to become major league-ready.

Meanwhile, guys like Jose Abreu need to step it up. As a rookie, Abreu hit ten home runs in April. This season he has just 11 in the first 3 1/2 months. And catcher Dioner Navarro, whose average has slipped to .208, was hitless with five strikeouts in 12 at-bats against the Braves while subbing for the injured Alex Avila.

In the meantime, fans on the other side of town can watch closely Tuesday night to find out whether their ballclub will enjoy (or not) home field advantage for games that have less than an even chance of being played.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.


1. From Mark Schaeffer:

As a youngster, my two favorite times of the year were the All-Star Game and the World Series. They were the only times one could see the AL play the NL (other than spring training). Al Kaline or Norm Cash vs Bob Gibson, anyone?

Sadly, today I barely watch the games as interleague play has ruined the anticipation I had a child. And connecting the ASG to the World Series does not help either.

It seemed like just yesterday . . . Goose Gossage vs. Bill Madlock with the game on the line in Milwaukee . . . Ah, the good old days.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021