All-Star Game deserves praising, not bashing
Through the years, we've heard too much grumbling about the best All-Star Game in professional sports. Nothing is within a few fungoes of the one for baseball, but it's been whine, whine, whine.
With baseball's latest All-Star Game approaching next week in Arizona, it should be hip, hip, hooray.
Compared to those of its mostly boring counterparts, the memories regarding baseball's All-Star Game are deep, magical and unparalleled. You're talking about everything from Carl Hubbell striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in a row to Pete Rose burying Ray Fosse at the plate for victory to Dave Parker's rocket throw to Gary Carter blocking Brian Downing away from sliding home with a potential game-winning run.
Who could forget all of those home runs of note? Fred McGriff ripped a game-tying shot in the bottom of the ninth in Pittsburgh along the way to an extra-innings triumph for his National League squad. Later, the normally stoic first baseman shocked everybody when he received the All-Star Game MVP Award by yelling between giggles, "I'm a hero."
Ted Williams was McGriff before McGriff.
Fifty-three years before McGriff's homer in 1994, the Splendid Splinter went from historically expressionless to jumping and clapping while heading to first base after his game-winning blast landed safely into the stands in Detroit. You've also had those dramatic homers of Stan Musial in '55 and Tony Perez in '67
As for pitching, you've had Johnny Vander Meer, Lawrence Jansen and Ferguson Jenkins joining Hubbell in striking out six hitters overall during an All-Star Game. Plus, you've had Future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer allowing three home runs, and Atlee Hammaker getting crushed for seven earned runs in an inning.
How about touching scenes? You've had a dying Ted Williams surrounded in the infield of his Fenway Park by a bunch of the game's great players of that time. Then you've had funny scenes, with none topping Barry Bonds playfully lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder between innings after the center fielder robbed Bonds of a home run.
Well, there was Tommy Lasorda's comical tumble when he tried to avoid a grounder slammed his way in foul territory while coaching third base. Later, when approached by reporters, All-Star catcher Mike Piazza, who happens to be Lasorda's godson, couldn't speak on that incident (or anything else) without bursting into long stretches of laughter.
Quick: Give me any comparable moment to those regarding All-Star Games of the NFL, NHL or NBA.
See what I mean?
So folks should stop their endless griping about this and that regarding baseball's All-Star Game. Let's start with one of the most overblown controversies of the 21st century: Tie-Gate.
I mean, what were those involved supposed to do? Nine years ago in Milwaukee, both teams ran out of players after 10 1/2 thrilling innings, and then Commissioner Bud Selig did everything right. He started with a meeting near the home dugout with the umpires and managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre. Afterward, they decided as a group that if the NL couldn't score in the bottom of the 11th, the game would end with a 7-7 tie, which it did.
Which was fine, because it was the only thing to do, and because it was just an exhibition game.
Oh, and lost in the midst of the ridiculous hand-wringing back then was that another All-Star Game also ended in a tie. It was the second of two games during the 1961 season, and it was called with the score 1-1 in the ninth inning courtesy of a lengthy rainstorm in Boston.
Even so, you continue to hear the howling over that 2002 tie.
You also hear the same every year over whichever "deserving" player is left out of the game. Never mind baseball is in its 15th season of an All-Star Game roster of 34 after years of sitting at 28. If baseball increased each team to 100 guys, you'd still have complaints about omissions.
There isn't such a national fuss -- at least not as loudly and consistently -- over the joke that is the Pro Bowl in the NFL, where the only thing worse than the play on the field is the television ratings. The same goes for the NHL All-Star Game (you may yawn), and a game of H-O-R-S-E is more competitive than the defensively impaired NBA All-Star Game.
The baseball All-Star Game always has made an attempt to be as much of a real game possible. And, no question, that was even more so in the past, when National Leaguers from the 1960s and '70s in particular boast of stirring pregame speeches from league presidents and others about the importance of upholding their league's honor.
To help baseball's honor, Selig used the debate over Tie-Gate to heighten the drive of those playing, managing and coaching in All-Star Games. Now the winning league will have home-field advantage in the World Series for a given season, and that's a wise idea.
Better yet, the late Bowie Kuhn decided in 1970 to bring fan voting back into the All-Star Game. Prior to that, baseball lost its way by switching the system during the late '50s to having players, managers and coaches do the voting. You can attribute it to baseball panicking after Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot boxes to get their guys in the starting lineup.
It's the fans' game, though. In fact, when the concept of an All-Star Game was first conceived by former Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, he viewed it as totally the fans' game. So that means the fans always should vote, and it means that, contrary to popular belief, the All-Star Game really was meant to be a popularity contest.
Is Asdrubal Cabrera having a better year at shortstop than Derek Jeter? No question, but Cabrera isn't the captain of the New York Yankees, and he also isn't anywhere near 3,000 hits, and he isn't just a retirement away from Cooperstown.
Consider, too, that there were a record 32.5 million All-Star votes cast this season, and that was nine million more than the old record in 2009. In other words, if the majority of those fans want Donald Duck starting at third base, baseball and Disney should get it done. They also should do so with a smile, because there is little to frown about regarding baseball's All-Star Game -- unless you're on the losing team.
Terrence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.