It has been years since I’ve watched an all-star game of any sport. These are made-up exhibitions, put on by guys who don’t normally play on the same teams, in fact usually compete with each other (not always amicably). And don’t even get me started on the interminable pre-game and in-game hype and folderol by over-caffeinated announcers that those who tune into these games must endure.
With some spectacular exceptions — see Mike Trout — most All-Star participants seem to be mostly interested in not getting injured during the non-game, thereby risking losing playing time in the real games to follow. A league is a pretty abstract thing for a player to identify with, and to be willing to lay it all out for (yes, even for today’s astronomical salaries). The attitude of most contemporary baseball players to the All-Star game seems to track Mark Twain’s attitude toward being tarred and feathered, to wit: “Except for the honor, I would as soon skip it.”
It hasn’t always been so. Back in the sixteen-team MLB of the fifties and before, players and fans seemed to care more about baseball in general and the All-Star game in particular. Not entirely, but at least partly, because in that smaller baseball universe, the All-Star game and the World Series were the only times the two leagues competed. Stan Musial and Ted Williams seemed to be truly trying to beat each other in those back-in-the-day All-Star games that were played in the afternoons. I can still almost hear my Dad’s whoop when Musial tagged Boston’s Frank Sullivan for a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th inning of the 1955 All-Star game (that year’s game was a long one, and Dad had just gotten home from work).
I’m glad to learn, from those who watched Tuesday night’s services, that the 79 year-old Sandy Koufax looks good. But I was sorry to learn that Willie Mays, at 84, looks distinctly droopy. (Willie Mays is 84? WILLIE MAYS! Heaven and Saints preserve us.)
Another feature was an introduction of the guys fans had voted as the top four living baseball players. The quartet was Henry Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax. Much great talent here. But why not make it five to include Yogi? Yogi, a spry 90 and a national treasure, was one of the game’s best and most durable catchers as well as one of its most dangerous clutch hitters. (Given truth serum, I’m sure Casey Stengel would have admitted that with the game on the line, there was no one he would rather see at bat for the Yankees than Yogi — no one, not even number seven.) Of course, one of the best things about baseball is that it’s a great generator of talk and opinion. So doubtless many alert TAS readers have other nominees for the fifth wheel. (I would think one of the melancholy things about such a vote is remembering how many of the great ones have gone on. A precious few of the players featured on my baseball cards of the early and mid-fifties are still with us.)
Another great thing about baseball is its everydayness, which leads us to another negative feature of the contemporary All-Star arrangement. The three-day All-Star break has become the four-day All-Star break. Players may appreciate the extra day’s rest, but the additional 24-hours leads many hard-core fans to suffer from BWS (baseball withdrawal syndrome). A true baseball fan denied his daily fix can be a sorry sight.
I’ve detected in myself the first symptoms of BWS. It’s not as bad as quitting smoking, but bad enough if it endures for long. I do miss the boys of spring, summer, and about half of fall.
So far my symptoms have been mild: the odd facial tic, minor restlessness after dinner when I would normally tune into what’s left of the Rays game, and a tendency to forget why I walked into a room (OK, maybe that’s not BWS). I hope and trust Friday evening will arrive before I graduate to night sweats, insomnia, and large bowel complaints.