When the All-Star game had real star power
Next week’s major league All-Star game begs for interest. The dugouts need to be extended and enlarged because of the generous number of players on each team. But many of those players will be easily forgotten and the game itself won’t generate the same sort of electricity the All-Star game once owned.
The first game came from the effort made by Arch Ward, a Chicago sportswriter who pushed for it and was finally rewarded with a game at Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox.
A large portion of the American League lineup had future Hall of Famers at nearly every station.
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Grove, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez, and Rick Ferrell shone brightly on the American’s side and Ruth hit a two-run home run in a 4-2 win by his team.
The game was an instant fan favorite.
After dominating the All-Star series for years, the American League fell from grace when the Nationals brought in their own future Hall of Famers in such numbers and brilliance that winning became almost second nature to its star-studded teams.
Even when there were only eight teams, the Nationals flooded the All-Star games with names like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Warren Spahn and Willie McCovey.
It seemed the only doubt left in the games was which National League player would be voted as the game’s Most Valuable.
Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins pitched in front of Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Ken Boyer, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Bill Mazeroski, Maury Wills and Vada Pinson.
Some years had two All-Star games. The National League still leaned hard on the Americans and Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Nellie Fox, Ted Williams, Rocky Colavito, Harmon Killebrew and company could barely win once in a whole decade of futility.
People knew they were watching some of game’s all-time greats, and the interest was keen and focused.
As sure as Father Time erodes the honed edges off most everything, the quality of the All-Star games was gradually whittled away and the public was left with mere numbers of unrecognized faces more than anything else.
On Tuesday, another All-Star game will bring together at least one player from every team, but just a token number of truly great players.
The game will start late, requiring a bedtime in the third inning for impressionable youngsters who might find baseball to have value if they could see it before the last out is made some time between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.
And there likely won’t be anybody carrying the torch that once belonged to Mays, Koufax, Gibson, Marichal, Banks and Musial.