MLB All-Star Game

For nearly nine decades, the best baseball players in the world have gathered in the middle of summer to play an exhibition game.  Tonight they will gather in Miami.

Major League Baseball puts on the best all-star game of the four major North American sports.  First played July 6, 1933, at Comiskey Park – home of the Chicago White Sox between 1910 and 1990 — the All-Star Game was part of part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair during the city’s centennial.  Originally designed to be a one-time event to boost morale during the Great Depression, the idea for the game was hatched by Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune.  Ward had initiated the Golden Gloves boxing tournament in 1923 and later launched the College All Star Football Classic and All-American Football Conference.  He decided that the fans would select the starting lineups while managers would select the other nine players for each of the NL and AL 18-man rosters.  The Tribune called it the “Game of the Century” and 55 newspapers across the country printed the fans’ ballots in their papers.  The inaugural game included 20 players, seven coaches and two umpires who would later be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The contest, which attracted nearly 50,000 spectators and generated $ 45,000 for charity, was such a success that it became an annual event dubbed MLB’s “Midsummer Classic.”

Scheduled for the second or third Tuesday in July, the ASG is meant to mark the halfway point in the unnecessarily-long MLB season [although the game may not literally come after Game 81, the official halfway mark].  Since 1963, all but three contests have been played on a Tuesday in July.  The first Midsummer Classic played at night came in 1942, at the Polo Grounds in New York City.  No game was played in 1945 due to World War II.  Between 1959 and 1962, two All-Star Games were played each season, but the practice was subsequently abandoned.

Since 1934, the two managers of the game are the skippers of the previous year’s pennant winners.  Two men came out of retirement to manage the All-Star Game.  Long-time New York Giants manager John McGraw returned to pilot the NL in the inaugural game in 1933, while Tony LaRussa, who retired after winning the 2011 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, came back to lead the NL in 2012.  Eight starting defensive players for each side are selected by the fans via ballots distributed at MLB games before midseason, while the managers choose the pitchers.  The coaching staff is selected by the manager, while reserves are picked by MLB players and managers.

The designated hitter was first allowed in the 1989 ASG.  Until 2010, the DH was only used in games played in American League cities.  Since 2010, the DH has been allowed for every All-Star Game.  The roster size for the first ASG in 1933 was 18.  Since then, it has been expanded six times to its current 34.  As of 2015, voting is done exclusively on the Internet.  American League designated hitters are determined by a fan vote, while the National League DH is selected by the manager.

Unlike the All-Star Games of North America’s other three major sports, baseball’s best play the game wearing their respective team uniforms.  MLB makes game-specific uniforms that are worn by players during batting practice and the Home Run Derby.

The first All-Star Game tie occurred July 31, 1961, when the game was called at 1-1 after nine innings due to rain at Boston’s Fenway Park.  The only other rain-shortened game took place in 1952, when the NL defeated the AL, 3-2, in a five-inning contest at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.  The 2002 All-Star Game, held in Milwaukee, ended in controversy in the 11th inning when both teams ran out of pitchers.  Commissioner Bud Selig declared the game a tie, cementing his place as the worst commissioner in the history of baseball.  Another of Selig’s bone-headed decisions was to award home-field advantage for the World Series to the champion of the league that won the ASG.  This ridiculous practice was in effect from 2003 to 2016.  MLB finally sobered up.  Beginning this season, home-field advantage in the World Series will go to the league champion with the better regular season won-loss record.

All-Star Game venues traditionally alternate between AL and NL cities every year, although tonight’s game marks the third straight year in which the contest has been played in a National League city [Cincinnati hosted in 2015 and last year’s game was in San Diego].  This is the first time Miami has hosted.  The only two current MLB cities that have not held an All-Star Game are Washington [which hosted three games as the Senators but has yet to host as the Nationals] and Tampa.  The 2018 game is scheduled for Nationals Park in D.C.  Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium and the original Yankee Stadium have hosted the most All-Star Games, with four, while New York City has held nine games at five different stadiums.

The most-attended Midsummer Classic was in 1935, when 69,912 fans packed cavernous Municipal Stadium along the banks of Lake Erie in Cleveland.  The AL won, 4-1, as Lefty Gomez scattered three hits over six innings to get the win.  The smallest ASG crowd was in 1956, when 28,843 turned out to see Willie Mays and Stan Musial homer to lead the NL to a 7-3 victory at Griffith Stadium in our nation’s capital.

What started as an event designed to boost morale has become a bloated weekend of excess.  Festivities begin the Friday before the game with a Fan Fest.  Since 1999, the All-Stars Futures Game has been held during All-Star week, pitting top minor league prospects from the U.S. against rising young players from the rest of the world.  All-Star Sunday includes a Legends and Celebrity softball game.  The first 10,000 fans entering the gates at the game this past Sunday received a Pudge Rodriguez bobblehead.  Monday brings All-Star Workout Day and the Home Run Derby.  Held the day before the ASG since 1985, the WWF-like Home Run Derby is an embarrassment to the National Pastime that is further tainted by the clownish Chris Berman and his signature bombastic play-by-play.  One fan’s suggestion: try watching the event with the sound muted.

Over 87 years, the balance of power in the Midsummer Classic has been amazingly close.  Entering tonight’s contest, the National League holds an all-time advantage of 43-42-2, and the NL has scored 360 total runs to the AL’s 359!  The competition has been streaky, however.  The AL won 12 of the first 16 All-Star Games.  From 1950 to 1987, the NL won 33 of 42 [with one tie].  One stretch from 1963 to 1982 saw the Senior Circuit win 19 of 20.  Since 1999, the AL has dominated, winning 22 of 29 [with one tie].

The MVP Award is presented annually to the game’s most outstanding player.  Originally called The Arch Ward Memorial Trophy after the man who conceived of the ASG, the trophy is now called The Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award, named in honor of the “Splendid Splinter,” the greatest hitter who ever lived.  Baltimore Orioles have won the most MVP Awards, with six.  Five players, including Bo Jackson, have won the MVP in the only All-Star Game in which they played.  Five players have won the award twice, including Mays, Steve Garvey, Gary Carter, Cal Ripken Jr., and Mike Trout.  Trout is the only back-to-back winner, having garnered MVP honors in 2014 and 2015.  The Griffeys are the only father and son to have won the Ted Williams Award.  “Senior” won it in 1980, a dozen years before “Junior” took home the trophy.  Sandy and Roberto Alomar are the only brothers to win ASG MVP, earning the awards in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

The 88th All-Star Game will be played this evening at Marlins Park in Miami.  Television coverage will be provided by FOX beginning at 7:30 pm ET.