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Several West Virginians were All-Star game fixtures

By Staff | Jul 11, 2014

There are those who still call the major league All-Star baseball game the “Midsummer Classic”, but the annual event seems to have lost some of its lustre since getting its start in 1933.

The game pitting the National League stars against the players selected from the American League was the child of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward. Ward brought forth his idea to give that year’s World’s Fair another event that might keep the city on people’s lips long after they had departed for their home country or home state.

It was to be a one-time-only exhibition. But it proved so popular that major league baseball kept it, even staging two games during the summers from 1959 through 1962.

That first game in 1933 at the White Sox’s Comiskey Park was so star-studded that each team had at least 10 players later enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. There were only 18 players on each team, meaning some of those future Hall of Famers couldn’t even start for their team. Each team had only five pitchers.

Lefty Gomez of the Yankees was the starting pitcher for the American League, which won 4-2 as Babe Ruth favored the crowd with a two-run home run.

Later to be inducted into Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame shrine were Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gerhringer, Joe Cronin, Al Simmons and Ruth from the American’s starting lineup. Off the bench came Lefty Grove, Bill Dickey, Jimmie Foxx, Tony Lazzeri and Earl Averill — all now safely in Cooperstown.

The Nationals had starters Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Pepper Martin and Chuck Klein who easily landed in the Hall of Fame. But those four starters would have been hardpressed to beat a team from the National’s bench that was loaded with Carl Hubbell, Lon Warneke, Gabby Hartnett, Pie Traynor, Lefty O’Doul and Paul Waner.

Connie Mack managed the American League stars and John “Muggsey” McGraw guided the National League.

Through the years since that first game was a much-discussed part of the World’s Fair, players born in West Virginia had much to do with the flavor of the games.

George Brett, born in Glen Dale, usually had to reserve that three-day break the All-Star game took away from the regular schedule for his 13 appearances in the event. Brett batted .292 in his All-Star appearances. Bill Mazeroski, born in Wheeling, was a 10-time All-Star in his 17 major league seasons. Both Brett and Mazeroski are in the Hall of Fame.

Infielder Toby Harrah, a native of Sissonville, was selected to play in four All-Star games and current television analyst John Kruk, born in Charleston but later a resident in Burlington and a graduate of Keyser High School, was in three All-Star games.

Lew Burdette, who won three games when Milwaukee took the 1957 World Series, was on three All-Star teams. Burdette was born and lived in Nitro. Tall right-handed pitcher Rick Reed (from Huntington) was in two All-Star games.

This year’s All-Star game comes next week on July 15 and its rules for player selection are much different than those used for the 1933 game.

Each team has to have at least one player, but with the squads crowded with 34 players that is no hinderance to winning. From 1935-46 the managers selected the players. But beginning in 1947 the fans selected the eight position starters other than the pitchers. Now, it’s a combination of fans, coaches, managers and players that are the selectors.

Of course with the advent of television there are other spectacles surrounding the game. A Home Run Derby is held on Monday, this year at the home of the Minnesota Twins.

The league winning the game gets the home field advantage in that year’s World Series.

Ruth homered in the first All-Star game.

And West Virginia-born players have held significant roles in the games that followed the Sultan of Swat’s 1933 long ball.