Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 21, 2022

MLB Decides To Have A Good Time

The matchup was one fans of the Yankees and Dodgers hope to see again later this year, in a setting in which far more will be on the line.  New York’s Giancarlo Stanton in the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium, with L.A.’s Tony Gonsolin on the mound.  On Tuesday night, at the 92nd All-Star Game, the Yankee slugger flicked his wrists at an off-speed offering from the Dodger right-hander and sent the ball sailing into Chavez Ravine’s left field bleachers for a two-run homer.  When Minnesota’s Byron Buxton followed with a solo shot in the same direction, the American League had erased a 2-0 deficit and claimed a narrow lead that would hold up, giving the junior circuit its ninth consecutive victory in baseball’s Midsummer Classic.  The 3-2 final score tagged the 11-0 Gonsolin with a result he has yet to experience in games that count this season, namely seeing an “L” next to his pitching line for the evening.

The loss won’t show up on Gonsolin’s stats page at Baseball Reference, nor will it ever appear on the back of his baseball card, and it’s doubtful that he lay awake Tuesday night fretting over the outcome.  For his part, Stanton went home with a crystal bat as the game’s MVP.  He will also surely have fond memories of starring not far from his boyhood home, at the same stadium where a young Stanton and his father used to arrive early and take up positions in, yes, the left field bleachers, hoping to snag some batting practice home runs.

Still, for both batter and pitcher, and for all their fellow All-Stars, Tuesday night’s game was just an exhibition, a welcome break from the longest season’s daily grind and the gradually increasing tension of pennant races.  These days there is more pressure associated with the Home Run Derby, in which the winner earns $1 million, than with the main event of what has become a multi-day extravaganza that includes the Futures Game among top minor league prospects, and, since last season, the MLB Draft.  And if that longed for (at least in some quarters) rematch between Stanton and Gonsolin comes to pass at this autumn’s World Series, the drama will be many times Tuesday night’s level. 

As the regular season schedule resumes, the Yankees and Dodgers boast the Great Game’s two best records, though the Astros in the American League and the Mets and Atlanta in the NL are all not far behind.  But it would take a monumental collapse for either New York or Los Angeles to miss out entirely on the playoffs, so the possibility of a reprise of the most common World Series matchup – Yankees versus Dodgers – but the first between the two clubs since 1981, will remain alive into October.  After that, who knows?  With the postseason bracket expanding to twelve teams, ten AL and eight NL franchises come out of the All-Star break within 3½ games of a spot in the postseason.  Every club with at least a .500 record remains very much in the playoff picture, and baseball’s recent history includes many examples of teams with poorer regular season records dispatching presumably superior clubs in the short series of the postseason.

Given the pressure that is to come, it’s a sure bet that the players on both rosters were happy that MLB, with willing cooperation from Fox Sports, went to great lengths to turn Tuesday’s contest into a tension free affair.  Not all that long ago, the All-Star Game was taken all too seriously by some, though it didn’t begin that way.  The first one, held in Chicago in 1933 while a World’s Fair was in progress down the street, was purely a marketing ploy, the brainchild of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward.  A former publicity director for Notre Dame’s football team and founder of the Golden Gloves boxing tournament, Ward had a keen eye for events with broad appeal to sports fans.  His guess that a game between two lineups of the best players in both leagues would be a hit with fans of what was then the unquestioned national pastime proved correct, so much so that what was conceived as a one-time event became a fixture on the Great Game’s calendar.

Perhaps inevitably, over the years there have been teams, fans, players, and a commissioner, who couldn’t resist the temptation to turn the exhibition into something more.  In 1957, fans of the Cincinnati Reds, with the support of a local newspaper and a wink and a nod from the team, turned fan voting for the starting lineups into a civic exercise, effectively stuffing the national ballot box and electing a National League starting lineup made up of Reds at every position except first base.  Commissioner Ford Frick was not amused, arbitrarily replacing three of the elected starters and ending the fan vote.  That ban lasted until 1970, which was also the year Pete Rose came barreling around third in the bottom of the 12th inning of a tie game, crashing into AL catcher Ray Fosse at home plate as if a pennant hung in the balance, instead of trying to simply slide away from the tag.  That contest was one of several that was tied after nine frames, and when in 2002 both squad’s rosters were depleted after 11 innings, fans pelted the field with bottles and other debris at the announcement that the game would end in a tie.  Commissioner Bud Selig then made things worse by decreeing that henceforth the All-Star Game’s outcome would determine which league had home field advantage in the World Series, a misbegotten idea that remained in effect for fourteen seasons.

This year there were probably fans rooting for a tie score.  That’s because for the first time, such a result would have led not to extra innings, but to a mini Home Run Derby featuring three batters from each side, with the side hitting the most dingers declared the All-Star Game’s winner.  It’s a clever and fan friendly way of bringing the contest to a close without exhausting players and is sure to be in place in future years.  Other innovations included more players on the field being mic’d up, with that feature applying to pitchers and catchers for the first time.  That produced the highly entertaining spectacle of Toronto’s Alek Manoah taking pitch requests from 8-time All-Star John Smoltz in the Fox Sports booth, and the even more fascinating interplay between regular batterymates Nestor Cortes and Jose Trevino of the Yankees.

Not every idea was successful.  A segment with David Ortiz in the AL dugout was amusing and reminded fans of how much Boston’s newest Hall of Famer loves the game, but its timing deprived fans at home of the chance to see Miguel Cabrera’s final appearance at an All-Star Game.  And this year’s special uniforms, which for the second time were worn in place of each player’s usual team outfit and exist for the sole purpose of selling copies to fans, were even more hideous than last year’s inaugural threads.  Overall though, from the pregame tributes to Jackie and Rachel Robinson to the postgame presentation of the crystal bat to Stanton, it was an All-Star evening that returned to its roots of entertaining fans.   

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