07/16/08 12:25 PM ET
All-Star Week a Ruthian success
Yankee Stadium send-off full of memorable moments
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It had everything, and it had his name written all over it.
Just take a good look back at these past several days in New York.
This was legendary. This was Bambino Heaven.
Blaze of Glory
That's how Yankee Stadium seems to be going out in its final year, and the week really began the moment Bon Jovi took the stage nearby on Saturday. It was one of the free concerts at Central Park they will always talk about, an All-Star party with 60,000 fans packed onto the Great Lawn on a perfect night of rock.
Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of business, introduced the band on stage and talked later about what that was like: "You were just thinking about how few performers ever got to do this -- Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross among them -- and it's like I told the crowd, my heart was beating out of my chest at that moment. I didn't want to have any words prepared so I didn't read off a script. It was just one of those moments where you knew something special was happening."
From "Runaway" to "Dead or Alive" to "Bad Medicine" and all the hits, it was a spectacular concert by some local guys who never ran away. You knew after the final song that this was going to be an All-Star Week unlike anything you ever saw before or perhaps ever will. And by the way, all of those people waiting in the hours before the concert were a captive audience watching "This Week In Baseball" and Yankees highlights. It was about baseball and having a good time.
At 1:37 a.m. ET on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, a place where Ruth homered first in 1923, the 79th All-Star Game broke all kinds of records and ended after 4 hours 50 minutes with a 4-3 American League victory over the National League.
It was an extension of AL domination -- the way it was in so many of those Fall Classics during the Babe's time. It was the kind of theatrics that made your insides flip, finally and mercifully ending in the bottom of the 15th inning when Justin Morneau barely beat Corey Hart's throw to the plate on Michael Young's sacrifice fly.
A whole new generation of fans will grow up remembering this game the way previous generations remembered Pete Rose barreling over Ray Fosse at the plate in 1970 at then-new Riverfront Stadium. You will remember: the way 22-year-old Evan Longoria sent it to extra innings; those jam escapes by Mariano Rivera and Aaron Cook; Dan Uggla's three errors; George Sherrill's three innings of relief; worrying about Brandon Webb and Scott Kazmir having to pitch and then watching them get it done; wondering if it will last forever with no benches or bullpens left; and so much more.
And a lefty right fielder from Boston won the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award.
With 28 swings from the left side, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers put himself into Yankee Stadium lore while there was still time. He did not win the State Farm Home Run Derby, and you can't take anything away from Morneau for being the person who prevailed given the existing rules. But it was Hammy's show.
It's not just that he broke Bobby Abreu's single-round record of 24 set in 2005 at Detroit; it's how he did it. They were Ruthian blasts, three in excess of 500 feet, and the awe was visible on the faces of All-Stars as well as a crowd that chanted his name and took him in like one of New York's own over the remainder of the week.
It was a storybook chapter in the comeback of a player who lived life to excess and said he almost paid the ultimate price for it. "The Dream" is burned into the barrel of his bat, and Hamilton said he had literally had a dream about being at Yankee Stadium and interviewed after a grandiose moment there.
Whoopi to Billy to Tino
It was almost like Tinker to Evers to Chance, except this one was a double play so beautiful that you rubbed your eyes and didn't believe what you just saw. All things considered, it may have been the smoothest defensive play of the entire week. During Sunday's Legends & Celebrities Softball Game at Yankee Stadium, Whoopi Goldberg gobbled up a grounder to second, turned her hips and perfectly fed fellow comedian Billy Crystal, who dragged his right leg over the bag in textbook fashion and sidearmed a throw to former Yankee star Tino Martinez at first for the twin-killing.
"This is my youth," Goldberg told MLB.com's Alyson Footer while gazing around the ballpark.
"Just to get a chance to play on this field, in front of all of these people, it's a great thrill," Crystal said.
The greatest of the greats
In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its first class of players: Ty Cobb (98.2 percent of the vote), Ruth (95.1), Honus Wagner (95.1), Christy Mathewson (90.7) and Walter Johnson (83.6). It became an institution in Cooperstown over the years, and on Tuesday there was a celebration of Hall of Famers never to be forgotten.
It began with the addition of most of the living Hall of Famers into the fourth annual All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade presented by Chevy, an event that drew more than a million spectators alongside 18 blocks of Sixth Avenue up toward that same park where Bon Jovi had started it off. Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, a Yankee battery synonymous with World Series greatness, rode in the lead vehicle. The Hall of Famers' trucks went first, then the AL All-Stars and then the NL All-Stars.
Then there was the All-Star Game Hall of Fame Celebration on the field that night. The chills never seemed to stop. You watched the introduction of legend after legend, matched alongside modern All-Stars at their given positions on the field, and no matter whether they won your heart or broke it as players, no matter whether they were way before your time or you remember, on this night you probably had flashbacks and tears and smiles of sweet satisfaction. This was their moment to be applauded again and recognized for what a special place they had held in the lives of so many people, the way a guy who wore No. 3 in pinstripes once did in America.
Joba in the house
Babe was no stranger to the party scene. It's part of his legend. On Sunday night, the "33 Club" party (an annual event named for the first year of the All-Star Game) was held at the famous Roseland Ballroom on 52nd Street, presented by MLB.com and hosted by actress/Dodgers fan Alyssa Milano and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain. It was packed with players and entertainers. Milano, speaking right before the All-Star Game, said her highlight of the week had been "seeing Joba dancing on the table."
Things that made you go, "Wow"
Every year is different, as the All-Star Game moves around and meshes into the fabric of that particular community. It will be at Busch Stadium in St. Louis next year, and they will put their own signature on that one and make it special in its own right. In New York's case, it was just one "wow" moment after another.
It was those record crowds for the DHL All-Star FanFest at the Jacob Javits Center, where people enjoyed all the interactive games. You would see people in work clothes running races of 90 feet. The batting cages. The video games. The memorabilia and the collectibles galore. The history. The merchandise, oh yes, the merchandise. And all those trivia questions fans just had to pose in stumping MLB.com experts.
It was Harmon Killebrew telling starting AL catcher Joe Mauer as they waited in the staging area before the Red Carpet Parade: "Do us proud tonight." That was a moment that said everything about baseball tradition.
It was Yankees fans mercilessly booing Jonathan Papelbon when he gave up a hit to Miguel Tejada, chanting, "Over-rated! Over-rated!" It was Papelbon shutting them up by striking out the next batter. Then the Yankee faithful jumping on him again as the NL scored. And so it went, all night. Red Sox players on Yankees ground, and the sometimes confusing situation of whether to boo them or support them so your team might win World Series home-field advantage.
It was 43 Statues on Parade, all 8 1/2-foot replicas of the Statue of Liberty except that these were swathed in Major League Baseball design, representing different clubs and themes and positioned at key venues all around New York City. They are each up for bidding now at the just-redesigned MLB.com Auction.
It was Red Sox prospect Che-Hsuan Lin hitting a two-run homer to lead the World team to a 3-0 victory over the USA team in the first nine-inning XM All-Star Futures Game. It was knowing you would see so many of these players soon in the Majors, and one day in another Midsummer Classic.
The game always goes on just like Ruth's mythical legend. On one week in the heart of another regular season, under an Empire State Building alit in baseball colors, these vagabond shoes were longing to stray and see it all.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.