Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The best all-star moments ever
The All-Star Game is annually one of summer's highlights for me. It has been since 1976. I'm pretty sure I've watched every All-Star Game since that year, although there was an ugly period there when I was actually working during some of the games.
I put a stop to that by always taking a vacation during the All-Star Game week.
I'm not off this week, but I am off on Tuesday, so I'll be taking my usual spot in front of the TV, partaking in the usual snack of chicken wings and some sort of artificially sweetened beverage, just like I did as kid, watching the action in Kansas City. I will be watching the entire game from start to finish (but I will probably miss whatever artificial, mushy, made-for-TV event they've cooked up for the pregame).
I can't stress enough how elated I am on this day. It makes me so happy. There is no angst around the game as there is with so many regular season and postseason games. Just the joy of baseball ... and lots and lots of unnecessary pitching changes.
I cling to All-Star Game memories unlike other baseball memories. Because most of them make me very happy (idiot Atlee Hammaker and the aggravating Hank Blalock are some of the less pleasant All-Star Game memories). I even use those memories when things are going poorly to perk me up. Really. That's how much I enjoy the All-Star Game.
I thought I'd recount my seven favorite All-Star Game memories here.
Why seven? Well, as I've mentioned before, the National League used to be so dominant back in the '70s that they'd score seven runs in every All-Star Game just to show the American League that not only could they beat them every year, but they could score the exact same number of runs every year.
So in honor of that incredible streak, and also in honor of the National League's future seven-game winning streak (it's only at two right now, but it will grow), I'm counting down the top seven.
Here they are:
Moment #7 at Pittsburgh: July 12, 1994, N.L. 8, A.L. 7, 10 innings
I admit that I don't remember this All-Star Game much at all. I can't recall Fred McGriff's game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth. Nor do I remember Moises Alou's game-winning double in the bottom of the 10th.
But I do know the National League won the game in dramatic fashion, and also snapped a six-game American League win streak. So, that automatically makes it a great game.
Moment #6 at New York: July 15, 2008, A.L. 4, N.L. 3, 15 innings
OK, so the wrong league won. It was still a fantastic game. An All-Star Game that goes six extra innings is like a fantasy come true. Free All-Star baseball? What could possibly be better?
This was the game in which Russell Martin came into the game in the fifth inning and then caught the next nine innings because Clint Hurdle didn't want to use Brian McCann for some reason. This was back when I cared about Martin and I really wanted people to know how good he was both offensively and defensively. And, back in '08, he WAS good offensively and defensively, and he showed it in the game, all the way into the wee hours. I was so proud.
Of course, now he sucks and New York pretends he doesn't. How things change.
Moment #5 at San Diego: July 11, 1978, N.L. 7, A.L. 3
This was the third All-Star Game I ever saw. I didn't get to witness Steve Garvey's great coming-out party during the 1974 All-Star Game, when he was a write-in starter and then proceeded to win the game's MVP award. So this was my Steve Garvey All-Star moment.
If you have a favorite team, you know that they have a weakness. No matter how good they are, you always know they will eventually fail and it will usually be on a big stage where critics can say, "they couldn't win the big one." I was always conscious of that with the Dodgers in the '70s. They would do so well, and then just come up short.
Well, Garvey was my anecdote for that. In the All-Star Game and during the NLCS, he was practically invincible. It didn't matter who was pitching or what the situation, he would always, ALWAYS come through. In this game, he was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and rocketed a triple off Goose Gossage. Another very proud moment for me.
Moment #4 at Los Angeles: July 8, 1980, N.L. 4, A.L. 2
There was a lot of pressure on a Dodger fan for this game. Los Angeles was hosting the All-Star Game (the only time I've seen the game in my favorite team's park). Four Dodgers were elected starters. And then people had to go and make fun of National Anthem singer Toni Tennile because they thought she was lip-syncing the words.
Would my team emerge out of this unscathed?
Well, thanks to Ken Griffey, they did. He lofted a home run off Tommy John in the fifth inning and then the N.L. took advantage of some shoddy A.L. fielding the next inning to make a winner of Dodger pitcher Jerry Reuss (I'm telling you there were Dodgers all over this game). It didn't even matter that the four Dodger starters went a combined 0-for-7 in the game.
Moment #3 at Houston: July 15, 1986, A.L. 3, N.L. 2
By 1986, Fernando Valenzuela wasn't the pitcher that he was as a 1981 sensation. Let's just say we knew he had flaws.
But '86 was Fernando's resurrection season. What a year! Not only did he win 20 games and finish second in the Cy Young Award voting, but he was simply amazing in the All-Star Game.
Coming in for Dwight Gooden in the fourth inning, Valenzuela struck out Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken and Jesse Barfield. Then he returned for the fifth inning (I know. Shocking), and struck out Lou Whitaker and Teddy Higuera before Kirby Puckett grounded out.
Fernando had equaled Carl Hubbell's famed five straight strikeouts in the All-Star Game. I know that one K was against a pitcher, who should've never been batting, but once again, I was so proud of a Dodger that night.
Too bad, Gooden had to screw things up for the N.L.
Moment #2 at Cleveland: Aug. 9, 1981, N.L. 5, A.L. 4
The 1981 baseball strike was an awful thing and absolutely devastated me at the time.
I was beside myself when an agreement was reached and it was decided that the All-Star Game would kick off the second half of the season.
It couldn't have been more fitting that the National League would win the game (for its 10th straight victory!). And Gary Carter was there to hit two home runs for the N.L.
Actually, Mike Schmidt delivered the winning runs with a two-run home run in the eighth inning, but everyone (including me) remembers Carter. Maybe it was because he looked as happy as we all were at the time. Baseball was back!!!!
Moment #1 at Seattle: July 17, 1979: N.L. 7, A.L. 6
The Dodgers didn't have much to do with this game, but it's easily my favorite All-Star memory. More than any other All-Star Game, I can vividly remember where I was and what I was doing.
We were at my grandmother's in Buffalo. I can picture the color of the rug in the living room and where the TV sat in the room. I can picture where I was sitting on the floor. I can picture me with a Pop Shoppe orange soda (the Pop Shoppe was a glorious place of about 78 different kinds of pop) and a piece of Bocce's pepperoni pizza.
And I can picture Dave Parker's throw, from inside the darkened Kingdome. A powerful, devastating, accurate rocket from right field to Gary Carter at home plate, who proceeded to smother Brian Downing, who was trying to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning. The score was 6-6 and Graig Nettles had just singled to right. But Parker would have none of it, and cut down Downing. I think they showed highlights of the throw about 250 times before the night was out.
The next inning, Lee Mazzilli received a bases-loaded walk from Ron Guidry to score Joe Morgan with the go-ahead run and the National League had preserved another victory.
It was the closest All-Star Game I had experienced at the time and one of the most dramatic games I had known as a young fan. I wanted to CRUSH the American League. And the N.L. did indeed, thanks to Parker. It left quite an impression.
And did I mention that my brothers were also watching the game, and both of them are American League fans?
I'll be watching the game alone tonight. But everything else will be the same. Soda. Snack. Rooting for the National League. And loving every second of it.
Enjoy the game.