Pete Reardon

A summer classic

By Pete Reardon

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is the game referred to as the “Summer Classic,” played since July 6, 1933.

That first year it was held at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in front of 49,000 fans. The American League won 4-2.

The game was held despite world wars and shortened seasons due to union work stoppages. The game has been played for 83 years, with the exception of 1945 when war time travel restrictions caused it to be canceled.

One I wish I could have seen was the 1959 game played in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, with the National League winning 5-4.

The game featured such baseball greats as Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, LA’s Don Drysdale, Frank Robinson, and Giants legend, Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays, representing the National League.

The American league had just as an impressive roster with the likes of Yankees great Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and one of the greatest second baseman to play the game, Chicago’s Nellie Fox. The game also included a couple of the game’s greatest hitters in Boston’s Ted Williams and Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. With a roster full of future Hall of Famers, it’s no wonder fans wanted two All-Star games.

From 1959-1962 the game was played twice a year to give fans a chance to see the baseball greats in action. Many looked upon the game as an exhibition of the greatest players, but it was originally conceived to boost player salaries. Attendance at major league ball parks skyrocketed during the 1920s, but between 1930-33 attendance fell by 40%, while the players salaries fell by 25% due to the Great Depression.

Fans who could still afford tickets migrated to the 50 cent bleacher seats, only two teams finished in the black and several were on the verge of bankruptcy. The game was the brainchild of then Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly, who was hosting the World’s Fair. He approached the editor of the Chicago Tribune with the idea of holding a major sporting event in conjunction with the fair.

It was a “One Time Game of the Century,” pitting the best ball players from the American and National League. All proceeds were donated to charity and the All-Star game was born. Ballots were printed in 55 newspapers with fans casting their votes for their favorites. Babe Ruth received 100,000 votes. Jimmy Fox and Lou Gehrig were among the first team to compete.

To be selected to the All-Star Game meant bonus money, sometimes as much as a quarter of a player’s yearly wage, but mere pennies when compared to today’s incentive-laden contracts. With salaries in the millions of dollars these days, players are no longer attracted to the game as they once were.

There are a few exceptions. Baseball has attempted to make the game more meaningful in recent years, introducing an added incentive to the victor in home field advantage in the World Series, which has come to play a big role.

Former Commisioner Bud Selig, along with ESPN, are credited with returning to an old show that was popular in the 60s, The Home Run Derby. It was first played in 1960, when it was a 30-minute television series held at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and pitted two of the games heavy hitters against each other. While one was taking his at bats, the other would sit at a table with the hosts. The initial contest pitted Willie Mays against slugger Mickey Mantle. The Yankee great won the first contest but Mays would return to take the $2,000 check three consecutive years. The loser would receive $1,000. Hank Arron won the most money during the show’s years, winning $13,000.

The Derby has become as watched as the actual game itself. This year’s display of power was the best to date with the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton hitting 62 diggers before winning the title. And who could forget the classic battle featuring Sammy Sosa vs Mark McGwire, as the two chased the MLB Home Run Title held by Hank Aaron.

Todays All-Star Game is just as popular, with fans still selecting the starting players and managers allowed to add to the roster. Hats off to those fanatic Cubs fans for their diligence in stacking the votes as this year’s game looked like the American League vs the Cubs, as the teams entire infield was voted in.

This year’s game had a special feel to it as we witnessed in person one of the game’s greats on his way to retirement, even though he is leading the major leagues in several categories. To see “Big Papi” David Ortiz tip his hat to the crowd as he disappeared into the dugout is something my son will share with his children while they are watching future “summer classics.”

Baseball lost many fans after the strike-shortened season of 1995. Some vowed never to come back to the game, boy are they missing out. How could you not want to watch some of the greatest players of our time have some fun on the diamond?

What makes the game a classic is the chance to see the Mickey Mantle of our generation, Washington’s Bryce Harper, or the Angels’ Mike Trout swing for the fences. I’m going to go with Harper’s slogan for the year, “It’s time to bring the fun back to baseball.” And for me it doesn’t get much more fun than the “Mid Summer Classic.”