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The All-Star Game, baseball, now and then, and a little league team that hardly lost
The home run derby in the books, the All-Star Game awaits at Dodger Stadium.
I’m bound to watch some of it.
A batter or two at least.
Maybe an inning or two, who knows?
Had their never been interleague play, and if the winner still got home field for the World Series, and if umpires did not work for Major League Baseball but for the leagues, separately, the way they used to, you’d have two reasons to watch we no longer have today.
To see the stars, all in one place, offering matchups you’d never otherwise see, like California’s Nolan Ryan facing Cincinnati’s Pete Rose, when only a World Series could produce such battles.
Until 1980, when Rose, by that time a Philly, and Ryan, now an Astro, found themselves together again in the National League for the first time since ’71, Ryan still a Met.
That and you cared who won.
You cared immensely because the players cared immensely.
Take a look at the last All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, 1980, Steve Stone (Orioles) and J.R. Richard (Astros) the starting pitchers.
The National League prevailed 4-2, Pirate Jerry Reuss nabbed the win, Yankee Tommy John took the loss and Cub Bruce Sutter earned the save. More interesting than those footnotes are the boxscore’s innards.
The AL, managed by Earl Weaver (Orioles) sent three batters to the plate three times and one four, Willie Randolph (Yankees) if you can believe it, before they were finally lifted.
The NL, managed by Chuck Tanner (Pirates) spread the wealth, but had more talent in the dugout, too: George Hendrick (Cardinals) backing up Reggie Smith (Dodgers) in center field; Dave Winfield (Padres) backing up Dave Parker (Pirates) in right field; Keith Hernandez (Cardinals) backing up Steve Garvey (Dodgers) at first base, not to mention Johnny Bench (Reds), Gary Carter (Expos), Ken Griffey (Reds) and Rose (Phillies) on the roster, too.
Each manager threw five pitchers, less than the Cubs and Dodgers put on the mound just nine days ago in the last game at Dodger Stadium before tonight, when managers David Ross and Dave Roberts combined to throw 13 pitchers.
That and, being played in a National League park, therefore without a designated hitter, those 10 pitchers appeared in eight different spots in the batting order, both managers double switching almost every time they made a move.
Sutter’s save? Two innings.
Rod Carew (Angels), Ray Knight (Reds) and Phil Garner (Pirates) stole bases.
Some rode the bench, not playing nor pitching.
All in service to the quaint goal of winning the damn game because each league wanted to win the damn game.
I was a National League guy and it was a glorious time, the NL winning 11 straight All-Star Games from 1972 to ’82.
I’m convinced it was a golden age of the game, leaving the fact my sports brain came on line in the middle of it merely tangential.
We got two games a week those days, NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball.
We played T-Ball, then the real game as PeeWees and Midgets, pick up games, too. One year our Linwood team went 16-1-1, losing to Edgemere and tying Kaiser in a contest that included no runs scored, I think, in the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth innings, the last three being extras before darkness made it stop.
I pitched but was behind the plate for the end of it, catching my best friend on the team, Barry Webster, for those last innings.
Clear as a bell, during the extra frames, I remember a Kaiser batter catching it on the button, easily the game’s hardest hit ball.
“That’s it, we lost,” I thought, only for Barry to stick his glove out and nab it, waist high, shocking himself and everybody else with a spear that prevented a home run, it was hit so hard.
Beyond Barry, Cody Barnett was on that team, as were Timmy Ellis, Travis Howard, Ty Johnson, Chris Pilkerton, Steve Ickman, Mike Wilburn, also Kirk, Kyle and Bryan, whose last names I can’t remember, though I could still take you to Jimmy and Kirk’s houses (and Barry’s, Cody’s, Timmy’s, Travis’ and Ty’s, too) if I had to and still remember the ball Kyle crushed in practice one day, a shot never repeated because he couldn’t stop swinging up, not level, and struck out all the time as a result.
I missed two games for a family trip to California.
Getting to our room in San Francisco, I turned on the television and the Oakland A’s were on. Until that moment, pre-cable, I’d not known games were televised in home markets. Also, though the afternoon, I had no interest in seeing the city. I just wanted to watch baseball.
It was a time, maybe, even 30-somethings can’t imagine. We collected baseball cards, Barry and I played Strat-O-Matic, simulating the game with strategy, cards and dice, and rode our bikes to ’89er Sunday doubleheaders at All-Sports Stadium.
Roger Staubach was somebody we watched on television. Pete Rose was who we wanted to be. Or Johnny Bench. Or, after the Pirates beat the Orioles in the ’79 World Series, Willie Stargell, whose pre-swing waggle I immediately picked up.
It was everything.
Now, T-Mobile’s my phone company because it gives me MLB.TV for free. Though I don’t watch a lot of games for too long, I visit it each night and, not knowing who won, catch each game’s three-minute roundup, keeping up with who’s hot; who’s streaking, like the Mariners and Orioles; who’s finally put it together, like the Braves; who hasn’t, like the White Sox; marvel at Bob Uecker, 88, still calling the Brewers without missing a beat and if the Giants or Mets are still playing, I’ll tune in because the guys that call them are great.
The All-Star game?
Now, it’s mostly nostalgia.
For the best sport.
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