The stars have dimmed

Throughout my youth the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was a television event not to be missed. It was the rare opportunity to see the best players in baseball at one time.

Additionally, National League hitters would step to the plate against American League pitchers — for the only time that year other than the World Series: Mantle v. Gibson, Clemente v. Catfish, etc.

They all got together for one big night: Aaron, Killebrew, Koufax, Robinson et al. Just to see them on one field was a thrill.

Fast-forward to 2009. I will probably watch some of tonight’s All-Star Game unless a more thrilling episode of “House Hunters” in on HGTV. The luster is gone.

It has nothing to do with my love of the sport. I watch more baseball on TV and in person than ever before.

But in an effort to reach new fans and boost television ratings, MLB keeps adding gimmicks that water down the experience for those who truly understand and enjoy this remarkable sport. For one, having uninformed or understandably biased fans pick the starting players is a joke.

Inter-league play is another bad idea. Sure, it was neat seeing Jeter, Tex and A-rod at Turner Field recently. But it will make the World Series less special if (OK, a real big “if”) the two teams surge in the second half and face each other in the Fall Classic. (My Sunday school teachers taught me to believe in miracles.)

So to see players from the two leagues on the same field now is no big deal. (And, worse, inter-league play has created an unbalanced schedule meaning that teams playing for a division title are not facing the same competition.)

And with the way players move from to team to team now, some of the All-Stars may have to look at their jerseys to remember which league they represent this year.

Of course there are other gimmicks like the atrocious designated hitter rule that has turned the AL into pseudo-baseball. Managers in that league no longer “manage” — just keep roll. Gone is the art of a double-switch or having to handle a bullpen.

Increased television exposure may have lessened some interest in the All-Star Game, but I doubt it. Watching more baseball on TV seems to increase the interest.

In Denver recently, I met Braves fans from places like Montana and Utah whose allegiance was built during the Super Station era of nightly televised games. That loyalty caused them to travel good distances to see their favorite team.

Baseball is a perfect game. After all of these years (with high tech equipment and high-powered athletes), a soft grounder to short still makes for a close play at first. Pitchers and hitters — set 60 feet and six inches apart — still battle without distinctive advantages over the other.

But like everything else in life, the imperfection comes from our human engagement. That is, when we start messing around with stuff.

Since we (in Macon, Ga.) lost our minor league team to Rome, Ga., a few years ago, I guess the All-Star Game is my best baseball option tonight. It might even be fun to watch. Indeed, a lot of talent will be on hand.

Perhaps I’ll stick with it longer than the interminable home run derby last night.

At the least the All-Star Game is filler until the real stuff gets going again — when I’ll be looking for opportunities to catch as many games as possible in the big stadiums and small parks along the way.

[PHOTO: Friday night rain delay at lovely Coors Field in Denver, one of the best baseball experiences in America.]

[Now for matters of greater interest and substance, keep following Tony Cartledge through the Holy Land at this link.]

6 Comments

  1. Amen to all of that, except for the part about the fans picking the players. I have mixed feelings about that. I always enjoyed getting ballots, punching the holes out and mailing them in. Okay, I always voted for the Braves…..but that was just part of being a fan.

    There is also the steroid issue which has compromised the game as well.

  2. Stephen-
    I do have fond memories of 1970 when the Braves had two starting outfielders (Hank Aaron and Rico Carty) on the NL team.
    Carty, known as the "Beeg Boy," was not even on the ballot but well on his way to winning a batting title with a .366 average.
    It was the first successful All-Star write-in effort. Punching ballots for Rico was a good thing.
    Today, franchises campaign too much for their own players by constantly urging us to go online and vote for their team's players.
    As a result, the most popular players (or players on teams with the largest fan bases) rather than the best players often get the starting posts.
    Oh, I didn't realize there was a steroid issue in baseball. Palmeiro and Clemens were adamant that they didn't use anything. McGwire is only looking forward and Sosa forgot how to speak English.

  3. I think I have told my story about the fellow from Rome Georgia who almost married Aunt Virginia going in for Dom Dimaggio in Game 7 of the 46 World Series in St. Louis so I won't tell it again.
    It made Dom's obit about a month ago.

  4. The All-Star Game was good and the pregame better. Made me dig out my old Stan the Man card.
    Fox- I've got one of the bespectacled Dom DiMaggio somewhere as well.

  5. JP:
    Larry Tye's new book on Satchel Paige is must read for you.
    I got a friend who is part of the extended family of Bill Veeck of the White Sox.
    It was Veeck who was key to Paige's career in the Major Leagues, giving Satchel his break and just desserts with the Cleveland Indians.

    Author was on NPR's Dianne Rehm show today. You will want to listen to entire thing online.
    Said Joe Dimaggio was sent to face Satchel as a tryout for the major leagues. Got four at bats and one tricky hit off Satchel and was sent straight away to Yankees.
    Satchel went back to the Negro league to be called up again for tryouts for the White players.
    Said Yaz got a hit off Satchel in All star game of 65; and after the game the normally very reserved Yaz gave Satchel a bear hug of an embrace in homage to his greatness.
    Yaz was the only man who connected on an aging Paige in three innings, best I understand the story.
    My Dad was the fan; I wasn't worth a damn; but appreciate the stories.

    David Halberstam's The Teammates is a must read for you. Get it today.
    If you aren't crying by page 20 you're a phoney.
    Just kiddin

    Sfox

  6. From the Fantasy Baseball Review of Tye's book on Paige:

    – On September 25, 1965, Satchel joined the Oakland Athletics for one day to face the Boston Red Sox. He was 59 years old. He threw 10 warm-up pitches. He threw three innings of one-hit (a double to Yaz), no-walk baseball, needing just 28 pitches to get nine outs. His catcher was 26, his manager was 35, Catfish Hunter was a 19 year-old rookie, and the second-oldest guy on the team was 36. Did I mention he was 59?

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