Monday, July 12, 2010

Time for the best All-Star Game in sports

Good Monday morning from here in beautiful Jacksonville, Florida.

It's time for the annual break in the big league baseball season, time for the 81st All-Star Game, this year being played in the home of the California, er, Anaheim, uh, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

I love the big league All-Star Game, it's the best, by far, of all the major sports annual classics. 

The first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played in 1933 @ Comiskey Park in Chicago. The game was created by a famous baseball writer of the time, Arch Ward. Babe Ruth hit the very first HR, and the A.L. beat the N.L., 4-2.

When the American League takes the field tomorrow night, I'll be sitting in front of my TV set to watch the game for the 41st time consecutive year, cheering on the boys from the A.L., after all, I'm a Detroit Tigers fan, and the A.L. is my league, as it has been since that first year, when the Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose bowled over A.L. catcher Ray Fosse of the Cleveland Indians to score the winning run for the National League.

What makes the baseball mid summer classic the best All-Star Game of the four major sports?

Quick, can anyone tell me what happened in the 1977 NBA game? The 1984 NFL Pro Bowl? The 1996 NHL game? Of course not. That's because those games are not played the same way their games are played in the regular season. 

You cannot blitz defensively in the Pro Bowl, and most of the best players refuse to play in it anyway, leaving the game for the back-ups, the NHL game is a wide open scoring showcase, which has nothing to do with the defensive minded way the regular season is played, and the NBA game, well, it's the NBA, a game that is the epitome of self promotion, "hey, look at me."

Baseball fans and the All-Star Game are different. I will always remember the 1970 game, not for the finish, but because it's the one game I got to watch with my Dad, who wasn't a baseball fan. We watched that game while on vacation, one of the few times I ever remember sharing a good time with my dad, who was a work-a-holic. He was a great billiards player, and he loved the Cousy/Russell Boston Celtics. He wasn't at home much, so spending some quality time with him any time I could get it was great.

The following year the All-Star Game came to Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and I was in baseball heaven. My Tigers were hosting the game, I would get to see my hero, Bill Freehan, and the great Al Kaline play in front of the home town fans.

The A.L. and the N.L. combined for a record 10 HR's in the game, and baseball fans will always tell you about Reggie Jackson's mammoth home run off the light tower in deep right center field as one of the great homers ever, regular season or not.

Year after year the big league baseball All-Star Game gives fans the best of the best, from the Montreal Expos Gary Carter wearing white shoes while hitting two HR's and winning the game MVP in 1981, to Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez striking out 5 of the 6 batters he faced while pitching in his home, Fenway Park, in 1999.

Baseball fans are also very forgiving when it comes to the annual game, as was the case with the 7-7 tie in 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

Because the teams ran out of pitchers to use after the 11th inning, changes to the game have been made.

The 2003 game was billed as "This time it counts," as baseball awarded the winning team home field advantage in the World Series. Since 2003, the American League has won every All-Star Game, and has won 4 World Series, to 3 for the N.L.

The NFL Pro Bowl, the NBA and NHL All-Star Games, they all have their appeal, they all have their place, but for myself, nothing measures up to the greatness of baseball's grand summer gem.

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