Archive for the ‘All-Star Game’ Category

All-Star Game

July 16, 2009
The first home run couldn’t have been more fitting.

With the World’s Fair to be held in Chicago in 1933, the entire city was abuzz with trying to figure out how to really showcase the city itself and the United States of America as a whole. Chicago seemed to be the perfect place — big city and lots of immigrants. The Chicago Tribune also got involved as one of the city’s main newspapers, and as part of their effort, they tried to find a sporting event to truly show off American culture. Sports editor Arch Ward was up to the task. The later creator of the Golden Gloves boxing tournament and College All-Star Game (football) would make his first creation a doosy. Baseball was America’s pasttime, and with each league having a scheduled off-day on July 6th, Ward convinced the two leagues to play an All-Star Game, though some owners weren’t exactly on board (traditional battle lines and no real profit for the teams.), by footing the bill and donating the profits.

The first All-Star Game was a huge success. Rosters were chosen by fans and coaches, and the two teams headed to Comiskey Park with the game’s best. It all went according to plan. Major League Baseball’s premier player, Babe Ruth, hit the first ever All-Star home run and later made a spectacular diving catch. The American League went on to win the first All-Star Game 4-2. The success of the event tranformed it from a one-season novelty into an annual tradition.

Each league would host the game in alternating seasons, and that has happened uninterrupted except for 1945 when wartime travel restrictions forced the cancellation of the game. Other than that, no other games have been cancelled. The 1961 game was shortened due to rain in the ninth inning for the first ever tie, and the 2002 game also stopped as a tie. 1952’s game was also shortened due to rain, but the National League held a 3-2 lead for the victory. Strikes haven’t even cancelled them. In 1981, the game was postponed due to the mid-season strike, but they played it on August 9th to bring back interest to the game. The 1994 game was played before the strike began.

From 1933 to 1949, the American League dominated. They won 16 of the 19 games. In 1943, the first night All-Star Game was held at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Managers primarily chose the rosters during this time, but in 1946, the fans were given the right to vote on the starting position players (someone still needs to explain to me why we can’t vote for pitchers).

Over the next 9 years, the National League turned things around, winning 6 of 9. During those years, the voting changed again. As a result of the 1957 ballot stuffing, voting was taken away from the fans. Mickey Mantle started the first-ever 7-game hitting streak in the All-Star Game, only matched later by Joe Morgan and Dave Winfield in the next decades. In 1951, the alternation of hosting the ballparks was momentarily interrupted as Detroit held the game in order to celebrate the city’s 250th birthday.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw utter domination by the National League. 22-4-1 was their record from 1959 to 1980. One might notice the odd number of games. From 1959 to 1962, a second game was held after the season in order to raise money for the player’s pension funds, but the two games severely weakened the appeal of the game, causing all games 1963 and on to be “Midsummer Classics” only. In 1970, the fans were given the right to vote again as another effort to boost enthusiasm for the game, and another note about the voting, the distinctions between outfielders was stopped. The 1967 game, however, is of particular interest among all of them as it was the longest game in history until last season’s game (both went 15 innings). This era also saw the only two MVP’s that played for the losing team — Brooks Robinson in 1966 and Carl Yastremski in 1970 (though the MVP Award for All-Star Games didn’t start until 1962, and as the bonus trivia question, who won that first award?).

Lady Luck began to turn on the National League in the 1980’s. After winning the first 5 of 6, the American League took the next 7 of 8. Toward the beginning of the run, a momentous thing happened — the 1989 game played in Anaheim was the first to use a DH. Four years before that, the first Home Run Derby was held as an official Major League Baseball event (the MLB had nothing to do with the previous ones). The 1988 game had some ballot stuffing accusations, but when Terry Steinbach (the player in question) won the MVP, the incident was partly forgiven. Two years earlier, Fred Lynn made some home run history himself when he belted the only grand slam in All-Star Game history.

The American League’s domination was momentarily stopped from 1994 to 1996, but they haven’t lost since. However, only two of those games have been decided by more than 3 runs, and 8 have been decided by 2 or less. The famous 2002 game ended in a tie, and the “This Time It Counts” rule began the following season.

What does the future hold? No one knows. The NL has run into serious bad luck in the past 13 seasons, but such runs have happened before. Next year’s game will be held in Anaheim and Arizona will host the 2011 game, but it’s undecided after that. Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and Yankee Stadium hold the record for most games hosted with 4, but the Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Rays have not yet hosted a game (the D-Backs will shortly but the other two will probably have to wait for a new stadium, and the Nationals hosted the 1982 game in Montreal).

The National League leads the series 41-37-2.

Home Run Derby

July 13, 2009
He was just made for the game.

Prior to 1985, the All-Star Break was purely about the All-Star Game, and many of the festivities you see today weren’t there. But when the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota held the 1985 All-Star Game, it became the first stadium and All-Star Game to also have a Home Run Derby. However, this wasn’t the first time a Home Run Derby had occurred.

In 1960, Wrigley Field (in Los Angeles, not Chicago) held a series of contests throughout the season pitting the best sluggers in the game against each other. Its format was a bit different from today’s, and it more resembled an actual game. The two sluggers battled it out for 9 innings with each of them getting 3 outs an inning. The winner would be on the next show and would gain the benefit of batting last. It’s also worth noting that if a batter took a pitch that was a strike, he received an out. The show didn’t last long, and Chris Berman believes it was because the announcer was too dry (let’s not all start yelling just yet).

But in 1985, the new Home Run Derby was partly influenced by its predecessor. The format changed as did the number of batters. With eight batters, 9 innings per batter is a bit excessive, so each batter was given 5 outs, and the two best scores moved onto a final round. Dave Parker won the first ever Home Run Derby. Over the next two Derbies, the number of contestants went down to 6 and 4 but would go back up to 8 until 1996. Later in 1988, the Home Run Derby was cancelled due to rain, putting a slight smudge on Riverfront Stadium’s All-Star festivities, and it would be the only one that has been cancelled due to rain.

Starting in 1991, the number of outs (5 to 10) and rounds (2 to 3) increased to take advantage of the event. The top 4 moved on, and their home run counts were reset. In 1996, a new dimension was added when the home run distances were tracked for the first time, and the tie-breaker became the longest home run hit in Round 1. During the same game, 10 players were now chosen to hit in the Home Run Derby.

The year 2000 was another landmark year for the Home Run Derby. The number of contestants was brought down to 8 as more and more sluggers were refusing to be involved. That Home Run Derby also saw the change in the second round format. Before, it was a competition between all 4 batters in which the top 2 moved on to the final round, but in 2000, a match play came into effect. The player in first place after Round 1 played the one in fourth with the other two matched up, and the winners from those matches moved on to the final.

In 2005, a new wrinkle was added. Starting when the batter reached 9 outs, a gold ball was thrown to the hitter. If the hitter hit it out, Century 21 and Major League Baseball would donate $21,000 per home run to the Easter Seals and the Boys and Girls Club of America, respectively. A year later and in honor of the first World Baseball Classic, Derby contestants were not chosen based on the league in which they played, and instead, 8 different countries were represented.

Onto some trivia. Of course, Josh Hamilton set the single round record with 28 in last year’s first round. However, Bobby Abreu’s 2005 performance of 41 home runs bests Hamilton’s ultimate 35. As for the all-time leader, none other than Ken Griffey Jr., with 70, leads all contestants. Seattle and the Chicago Cubs are tied with 3 players each who have won Derbies. Seattle also leads with 12 contestants (Griffey 7 times), and Griffey leads with 8 all-time appearances.

What do I think of the Home Run Derby? Love the idea, hate the execution. You can pretty much look at Bill’s post earlier today for my feelings on the subject. In short, no Chris Berman (insert Matt Vasgersian and Scott Van Pelt because I love Van Pelt), no third round (just too long), the top 2 move on from the first round, and all home run totals count (no resets). But I like seeing the sluggers get out there and crank some home runs. As of right now, it’s the only time when you get to see these guys really having fun, and that’s what I like to see. Plus, fans get lots of souvenirs.

Futures Game

July 13, 2009
Man-child and number one prospect in the game, Jason Heyward.

The All-Star Break used to be all about the stars of the major leagues, but now, the minor leaguers are also involved. Brainchild of current Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball Jimmie Solomon, the Futures Game began in 1999 to showcase the young stars of the game. Solomon began as the Director of Minor League Operations in 1991, and he would begin this game in order to generate more interest in the best prospects of the game.

Players are chosen by Baseball America. The magazine selects 25 players for a World and USA team (Puerto Rican players are part of the World Team, even though they are technically US citizens, because Puerto Rico has its own baseball federation). Each major league team has to have one representative, but no team can have more than 2 prospects.

Originally, the Futures Game was only 7 innings long, but in 2008, it was changed to a full 9 inning game. Of course, this season’s game was shortened to 7 innings, but that was because of rain (and was a fun game to watch if you didn’t). It’s played on the Sunday before the All-Star Game in the same city and stadium that the actual All-Star Game is played.

The World now leads the series, 6-5, after today’s game. They won the original game before the USA won the next two. The World won the next one before the USA again ran off two more. After the two teams traded off victories again, the World has taken the past three games, the first two in dominant fashion before rallying this season.

Because the game does feature the best prospects in the game, it’s safe to assume that many of the players have turned out to be major league players that have significant impacts for their team. Among MVP’s, Alfonso Soriano (1999), Jose Reyes (2002), and Grady Sizemore (2003) are some of the key players from the game that have become All-Stars in the majors. We’ll have to wait on Rene Tosoni.

But you want some fun trivia, don’t you? Most prospects only play in the game once, but it’s not illegal to play in it more than once. In fact, some players have played in the game more than once. Carlos Carrasco, Shin-Soo Choo, Edwin EncarnaciĆ³n, Justin Huber, Seung Song, and Merkin Valdez have played in the game 3 times, the most among players. Most players play in consecutive seasons or just skip one year, but Francisco Liriano (2002 and 2005) and Robinson Diaz (2004 and 2007) skipped two seasons in between appearances, the longest in between appearances among players.

It’s not a big tradition, yet, but I like watching the young players get out there on a big stage.

All-Star Voting

June 29, 2009
Well, I thought it was clever.

If you haven’t filed your on-line ballots for the All-Star Game, you have until Thursday. I have filed 3 so far while at Cincinnati Reds games, so I’ll get to vote a collective 28 times. For on-line ballots, I always wait until a week before the deadline to start voting. If you do it before, you’re either going to vote in a guy with 2 hot months (which is worse than voting in a guy for having a hot half) or you’re voting based on reputation (more acceptable, but this still doesn’t help get you the best 32 players). By waiting until now, you get a better view of who actually deserves to be in the All-Star Game based on their first-half performance. Some guys have cooled off while others have heated up. So go vote, if you haven’t, but don’t Vote for Manny. Please. Anyway, on to a quick history of All-Star voting (more All-Star stuff is on the way for the days leading up to the game) before I tell you who should be voted into this year’s game tonight and tomorrow night.

Arch Ward began the All-Star Game in 1933 as part of the World’s Fair that was to be held in Chicago. The game’s players were selected from the game’s stars by Ward and some advisors. Due to the game’s success, it became an annual event, and in 1935, the manager of the All-Star Game began choosing all the players that would be in the game. However, this caused some problems. In 1939, Joe McCarthy used 6 of his New York Yankees in the starting lineup. Not that all of them didn’t deserve to be there, but the idea of favoritism forced the commissioner’s hand.

In 1947, Happy Chandler changed the selection process slightly. The fans could now vote for the eight starters other than the pitcher. Other than the starters, the managers chose the rest of the team. This could still lead to favoritism, but at least the fans could choose the starters, presumably to make things more fair. Well, that didn’t exactly work out. Ten years later, Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot box and elected 7 Reds to be starters with only Stan Musial able to withstand such a travesty of justice. Commissioner Ford Frick was ticked, and he immediately took away the voting from the fans, giving it back to managers.

As is want to happen in history, you make one decision to correct something, and then, an unintended consequence forces another reaction. Without input and then two All-Star Games from 1959 to 1962, the enthusiasm surrounding the game waned. It was no longer new and exciting, and it soon became trite and bothersome. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in 1970, gave fans the right to vote again in order to create more enthusiasm and to drive marketing for the game and baseball in general. The reserves and pitchers were still selected by mangers, but the game had been saved. Another interesting fact that occurred around the same time, the distinction between outfielders was dropped. No longer did you pick a center fielder, left fielder, and right fielder. Fans complained that they had to choose Hank Aaron or Roberto Clemente, and that wasn’t right if they were the best players in the game. So, now you vote for 3 outfielders.

Everything moved along fine over the next 30 years or so, but the original problem of All-Star selection was still partly evident. The starters were now free of managerial favoritism, but reserves weren’t. Managers were often accused of picking their own players instead of other “worthier” players. In 2003, the process was tweaked again. Players and other coaches are now part of the selection process. Their votes don’t necessarily count as official (obviously, the every team must have a player requirement keeps this from really working), but the managers usually stick to the votes (though, we are never really told what the results are).

A year earlier, the Final Vote began in order to increase fan enthusiasm. At the time, there were only 30 players, but that would be the infamous game. Rosters expanded to 32 the next season. Five players from each league are selected, and the fans vote on the player from each league that they think should play. The NL has seen no winners on repeated teams, but the Boston Red Sox (3) and Chicago White Sox (2) have won 5 of the 7.

Other fun facts:
– The first game had roster sizes of 17 and 18. The 1939 Game had 25 and 26 players. Now, 32 players are chosen.
– The first DH to appear in an All-Star Game was 1989.
– For injuries or other reasons, players can decline their invitations, and they will be replaced by the Commissioner.
– Managers are the managers from the previous season’s World Series. 1964 was complete chaos, however, as Yogi Berra and Johnny Keane left their teams and went to the other league. In 1995, the managers of the teams with the best records by the time of the strike were the manager of the All-Star Game.

I like the All-Star Game, and I watch it every year. But there are some things I would like to see changed.

First, why can we vote for the position players but not the pitchers? It has never made any sense to me. Yes, fans might choose a pitcher who pitched on the Sunday before and the team may not want him to pitch, but they choose injured players all the time. Put in a sub if that’s the case. And yes, I would be okay with a reliever starting the game.

Second, no selections of DH’s as starters. Full-time DH’s should be allowed in the game, and they can be able to start as the DH. But in AL parks, choose the reserves and let the fans choose from them who should start as the DH in the same manner as the Final Vote. That way, it’s a little more even between leagues, and the fans aren’t cheated out of an NL starter.

Third, no more “One Team, One Person” nonsense. If your team doesn’t have a great player, complain to the GM. Otherwise, Mark Redman gets in the game, and that’s just ridiculous. Throw the non-represented teams a bone and bring a coach on board.