Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

July 14, 2013

Midsummer Classic always a highlight of sports year

BLUEFIELD — Tuesday night millions of people around the world will plop down in front of televisions and tune into radios for the annual occurrence of an event that first took place 80 summers ago at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

On July 6, 1933, players from the American and National Leagues, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Lefty Gomez of the New York Yankees, Frankie Frisch of the St. Louis Cardinals, Pie Traynor of Pittsburgh and Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants — all future Hall of Famers — squared off in an exhibition. The managers were already legendary in 1933, John McGraw of the New York Giants and Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics.

How little did those involved in that game in 1933 know that the event in which they participated would grow to become one of the most popular single-day sporting events in the world.

For years the All-Star Game was probably THE biggest single sporting event, definitely in the United States. Today that event is the Super Bowl, but for most of its 80 years the ASG has reigned supreme. It has maintained its appeal because unlike other sports, baseball does not need to make its players bigger than the game in order to attract fans. For reference, see the NBA after the retirement of Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The league has had to have a “superstar” ever since and its brass is of the belief that without such, the league would fail.

Baseball is different. Ruth, Gehrig and Hubbell in the ‘30s gave way to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller in the 1940s.

The 1950s saw Jackie Robinson and young outfielders named Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron who all played in All-Star games into the late ‘60s and early-to-mid ‘70s.

In the 1960s there were pitchers that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford and Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Maury Wills.

Pete Rose ushered in the 1970s by bowling over Ray Fosse in the ‘70 game and Rose was a fixture for the entire decade on the NL teams, along with Cincinnati teammates Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey and George Foster all of whom won All-Star Game MVP honors during their careers. Reggie Jackson, Jim Palmer, Goose Gossage, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson and the list goes on for great players from the ‘70s.

In the ‘80s Fred Lynn helped the AL snap a 12-game NL winning streak with a grand slam home run in Comiskey Park on the 50-year anniversary of the first midsummer classic in 1983. Later in that decade Cal Ripken took up the position at shortstop for the American League and held it for more than a decade until Derek Jeter came along in the late ‘90s and has held it until this year.

This season we are seeing a new generation of All-Stars, many making their first appearance in the game. Baseball, while it’s popularity may not be as strong as it once was throughout America, is still the most-attended sport in the country. More than 130 communities throughout our nation have professional baseball teams and we are fortunate to have the Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays in our community.

Worldwide the game continues to grow. There has always been strong baseball in the Caribbean and in Japan, but we are now seeing it spread to Europe, the Asian mainland and South America.

Stepan Havlicek of the Princeton Rays is from the Czech Republic. The Pulaski Mariners have a 16-year-old pitcher from Brazil.

The names have changed throughout the years but the Major League All-Star Game continues to be a gathering of the best baseball has to offer.

For me there is still the thrill of seeing the players lined up on the lines in different uniforms, tipping their hats to either applause or boos.

While there have been some problems with the game in the past, most notably Bud Selig ending the game in a tie in 2002 and then giving World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the game.

When I think of the All-Star Game I see Rose running over Fosse. I see Aaron homering in his home ballpark in Atlanta in 1972. I see Dave Parker making a perfect throw from right field to nail Brian Downing at the plate in 1979. I see Larry Walker flipping his helmet backwards and switching from the left side of the plate to the right against Randy Johnson in 1997.

Peering into the crystal eight-ball, I see myself sitting in Great American Ballpark in 2015 watching the Midsummer Classic. As for Tuesday night, it will be another reincarnation of one of the greatest sporting events the world has ever known. I just hope the National League can pull out a win.

Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com

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