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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Last True All-Star Game

In honor of baseball's Centennial Celebration, the 1969 All-Star game was held in the Nation's Capital, Washington, D.C. Hosted by the Washington Senators, who were led by their new manager in Ted Williams and slugger Frank "The Capital Punisher" Howard, the game is now remembered as the last true All-Star game.

For in 1970, voting for the players was turned over to the fans, once and for all. Baseball had experimented once before with fan voting, (1946-1957), an idea which ended in controversy when fans of the Cincinnati Reds voted seven of the their eight starters to start the game, with only St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Stan Musial being the only non-Red to win the vote. Commissioner Ford Frick overturned the vote for two players, outfielders Wally Post and Gus Bell, replacing them with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Voting was returned to the players, where it would remain until 1970.

The 1969 game also has the distinction of being the only All-Star game to be rained out. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, July 21st, the game was played on Wednesday, the 22nd. With players now having to scramble with travel arrangements, ensuring they would arrive on time for the resumption of the season, MLB decided the game would be played during the day, making it the last All-Star game not played under the lights. This decision had an immediate impact on the game, and not for a good reason.

While 45,259 fans had no problem with the change in game time, American League starting pitcher Denny McLain did. Apparently forgetting the switch, McLain, the ace of the Detroit Tigers staff and coming off his 31 win season of 1968, arrived at RFK Stadium in the third inning. Tigers teammate Mickey Lolich was none too happy with McLain's seeming indifference to the situation, the two of them got into it and had to be separated, all this before McLain got dressed.

AL manager Mayo Smith went with the Yankees Mel Stottlemyre to start in McLain's absence. The NL scored an unearned right off the bat in the top of the first inning, Pittsburgh's Matty Alou singled, and after a groundout and wild pitch, Hank Aaron hit a fly ball to left field which was dropped by Frank Howard, scoring Alou. An infield single by the Mets' Cleon Jones preceeded a tape measure homer off the facing of football broadcast booth in left field by Johnny Bench.

St. Louis Cardinals lefthander Steve Carlton started for the National League, and after retiring the first four AL hitters, touched off a lengthy celebration in the second inning, allowing a solo homer to hometown hero Frank Howard.

Oakland Athletics righthander Blue Moon Odom replaced Stottlemyre in the third inning and immediately allowed the Nationals five runs, making the score 8-1. Highlights of the inning were a two-run bomb to the upper deck in right field by San Francisco's Willie McCovey, and a run scoring double by Carlton himself.

A solo homer by the Tigers Bill Freehan in the third inning ended Carlton's afternoon. McLain replaced Odom in the fourth inning, and after striking out Aaron, allowed McCovey's second homer of the game, to almost the same spot as his first one, a blast which also ended the NL scoring for the day.

The American League's third and final run came in the fourth on singles by Howard, Oakland's Sal Bando, and Freehan.

The 9-3 win stretched the NL's All-Star winning streak to seven games. McCovey was named MVP, with Carlton and Stottlemyre receiving the win and loss, respectively.

The Starting Lineups:

National League

American League

When the players elected the participants, the All-Star game had more meaning. Being shown respect by your peers is the ultimate competetive sign of respect, guys didn't jake it when they got there. The appearance of not taking the honor seriously was dealt with accordingly, as shown by Lolich confronting his Tigers teammate McLain over being late and missing his start. Guys played hard, too, the American League was pissed off at losing six games in a row, (the streak would reach eight before the AL won the 1971 game in Detroit). With the score 9-3 in the sixth inning, Carl Yastrzemski climbed the leftfield wall to make a remarkable catch, robbing Johnny Bench of his second homer of the game. Today, guys don't climb walls losing 9-3 in a regular season game.

The adding of the homerun derby, and having the World Series home team determined by the winner has further turned the All-Star Game into the exhibition that it is. Free agency and inter-league play has cheapened the game as well, players no longer cross paths with their rivals only during Spring Training and the All-Star game.
If baseball wants the fans to vote, that's fine. The players vote on the reserves, essentially fixing the fans screw-ups. But giving home field advantage in a World Championship series to the winner of an exhibition game is ridiculous. Put it back where it rightfully had been for a gazillion years, alternating years. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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