It's Opening Day and, as I suspected, MLB was a wee-bit ambitious. But that's OK.
I'm not here to write about this baseball holiday. I'm here to write about another baseball holiday ... well, what used to be a baseball holiday.
We don't care as much about the All-Star Game anymore. You can argue that point all you want, but if you were following baseball in the '70s or earlier -- heck even in the very early portions of the '80s -- then you know there's no disputing that statement. It's the truth. The ASG was bigger in every baseball fan's mind 40 years ago.
There are a few reasons for the ASG's decline -- the blending of the leagues, the bells-and-whistles installed around the main event, the influence of agents on when and how long a pitcher can perform -- but this is a post theorizing on when the ASG began losing its luster and when that attitude that the game was "nothing special, just an exhibition" started.
It began in 1983. And if I'm remembering it right -- and there's a chance I'm not because it was quite awhile ago -- the following people are to blame:
I've written about this before. A few times. I'm sure people have wondered why I've carried on. I'm sure people are wondering now.
I have my reasons.
I started following baseball on my television in 1976. That's when I began to pick up on the rhythms and hierarchies of the game. The Reds were the Big Red Machine, the Yankees were good-but-evil, the Red Sox were cursed, the Dodgers were excellent except on the biggest stage, the Cubs and Mets were always bad, the Phillies and Royals were interesting upstarts and ... oh, this: the National League never lost the All-Star Game.
This last fact was important to me. Not only was I building the foundation for my new interest (Matchbox cars just didn't do it for me anymore), figuring out what was what in the game, but I was the only National League fan in my family. Everyone else who rooted for baseball in the family pulled for the American League.
Yes, that was a thing then, rooting for the AL or the NL. The leagues were much more distinct than they are now, and I don't care how homogenized the leagues get and how few people remember that time, I liked it better that way. Baseball was more exciting that way.
I enjoyed the National League's dominance quite a bit back then. Watching my Dodgers lose to the Yankees in the World Series in back-to-back years, it felt good to see those same Dodgers All-Stars win and those same Yankees All-Stars lose the next year in the All-Star Game.
The National League won 11 straight All-Star Games between 1972 and 1982, or in other words, all of the All-Star Games I watched since I started following baseball for seven straight years. Throw out the 1971 All-Star Game and the NL won every ASG from 1963 through 1982.
Sure, that kind of domination can get a little tiresome, especially if you were an AL fan, but that's your fault for being a fan of the inferior league!
I found the domination exciting and each year I looked forward to figuring out how the NL was going to win, because it would be different every time. Best of all, you could see the focus in the NL players. It's obvious they cared about winning the game. It was a rivalry and they wanted to win. I liked that. I wanted them to win, too.
Then 1983 came along.
I wish I could find facts to back up my feelings about Whitey Herzog, otherwise it just seems like I'm throwing the guy under the bus, but he annoyed me. My biggest annoyance with Herzog was how in interviews he always seemed to act above whatever anyone was asking him. He seemed to not have a lot of time for what he didn't think was important. And I got the definite impression heading into the '83 All-Star Game that he didn't think the ASG or the NL continuing its winning streak was all that important to him.
This irked me. Of course it was important! Dave Parker's throw from the outfield? Gary Carter's home run? Steve Garvey's two All-Star Game MVP awards? You're saying that's not worth continuing!?!?
Maybe it was because Herzog came up as an American League guy. That's how I first knew him.
He was the Royals manager. And he was on the good-guys side, going up against the Yankees each year in the ALCS.
Turn over the card and you will see that Herzog played for the Senators, Kansas City A's, Orioles and Tigers. And then he managed for the Rangers and the Royals. That's nothing but American League teams there, guys. Yup, I was suspicious of this guy who was now managing the National League team in the All-Star Game, and nothing he was saying going into what could be the NL's 12th straight ASG win was making me any more comfortable.
The starting lineup for the National League was pretty good. Defending NL Rookie of the Year Steve Sax was leading off, followed by another young star, Tim Raines. Andre Dawson and Al Oliver followed, then Dale Murphy and Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter and Ozzie Smith. That's a good lineup. The fans chose well.
But the fans didn't get to choose the pitchers. The manager did that. Whitey Herzog did that. Here is who he didn't pick for the National League:
Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Reuss, Bob Welch and John Denny. All of those pitchers had established that they were having good years by July. Herzog also didn't pick Larry McWilliams, who was having a good year for Pittsburgh. Herzog claimed he didn't pick McWilliams because he was told to pick Fernando Valenzuela by the NL big wigs. Valenzuela was having a decent year, too. But Herzog didn't even bother using him.
Instead, the NL pitching lineup for the game featured Mario Soto, Bill Dawley, Dave Dravecky, Atlee Hammaker, Gary Lavelle, Jesse Orosco, Pascual Perez, Steve Rogers and Lee Smith. I didn't have much of a problem with Soto, Rogers or Smith, but damn there were a lot of Giants there. That didn't instill me with confidence. I had never heard of Hammaker before 1983 but he had started out very well -- a 9-4 record and 1.70 ERA in the first half of the season.
However, a couple of things. None of Hammaker's wins in the first half of the year came against the Cardinals, Herzog's team. Much of that was relievers blowing Hammaker's start, but it's still interesting. Also interesting: four days before the All-Star Game, Hammaker pitched 9 2/3 innings in a walk-off loss. That was the most he had pitched in a single start all season. And the start before that he went 9 as well.
So, before this game even begins I'm in a mood.
The game starts well for the NL as the AL begins in the usual fashion, booting the ball everywhere. Sax reaches on an error, Raines reaches on an error. The NL leads 1-0. The AL ties the game in the bottom half and goes ahead 2-1 in the second, but I'm not concerned. The NL always finds a way.
Then, there in Comiskey Park, an American League park, the bottom of the third begins.
Herzog replaces Soto after two innings, not with Steve Rogers or Fernando Valenzuela, veterans of past NL wins, but with Hammaker, the guy who had pitched nearly 10 innings four days prior, and was appearing in his first All-Star Game.
Jim Rice is the first batter. He hits a home run. AL leads 3-1. George Brett is next. He hits a triple. I'm already pleading with the TV to show the NL bullpen. Hammaker gets Ted Simmons to pop up. But Dave Winfield singles, driving in Brett. AL 4-1. Manny Trillo follows with a single. Where is Herzog? Why isn't he coming to the mound to replace the pitcher? He has like eight of them to choose from!
Pinch-hitter Doug DeCinces flies out. Maybe we'll get out of this. Then Herzog does this: he intentionally walks Robin Yount to load the bases. Intentionally loading the bases in an All-Star Game where every batter in the lineup is an All-Star is not good. I really didn't like this.
Fred Lynn didn't like it either. He was the next batter and walking Yount to get to him felt insulting, he said later.
This was another thing that didn't seem right about this game.
Fred Lynn was always a Red Sox player to me. I was around for Lynn's exciting days as a young star with Boston. I shared a bedroom with my brother, who is a Red Sox fan. and Fred Lynn's poster hung next to his bed, I saw it every day for several years. Lynn, a Boston Red Sock.
Then Lynn signed as a free agent with the Angels after the 1980 season, which was very weird. Seeing him on baseball cards as a member of the Angels was very, very weird. Seeing Lynn dressed as an Angel WITH A MUSTACHE was bizarre.
Except for the 1979 season when Lynn it 39 home runs, he wasn't known as a big home run hitter, especially with the Angels. He was good for 20 home runs a year, decent power, but not a sure thing.
So, Lynn, still upset, walked up to face Hammaker -- yeah, Hammaker was still on the mound -- and promptly hit the first grand slam in All-Star Game history.
I stared at the screen stupefied. I couldn't comprehend what I had seen. The National League doesn't give up grand slams in the All-Star Game! The National League is supposed to do all the things! What the hell is going on??????
Oh, and that's when Herzog comes out and replaces Hammaker. Nice, fucking job, there Whitey. I guess now you can do that since there's no chance the NL comes back.
The American League goes on to win 13-3. The NL doesn't have much of a chance to come back after the substitutions start happening. The back-up players, also selected by Herzog, were significantly more lightweight than the starters -- Leon Durham, Glen Hubbard, Dickie Thon, Willie McGee, Bruce Benedict.
(By the way, Hammaker went 1-5 during the second half of the season and appeared in just eight games after appearing in 15 in the first half. His ERA still led the league at 2.25 but it went up from 1.70).
The NL winning streak was over and ended in the most irksome way possible. In my view at the time it could have been avoided. And it was obvious to me more than ever that Herzog thought this game was nothing special and he managed the game in a way that would prove his point.
Since that game, the AL has won 26 of the last 35 All-Star Games that didn't end in a tie. The NL led the All-Star Game Series 34-18-1 after the 1982 game. The AL now leads 45-43-2.
Every time I hear someone say that they don't care about the All-Star Game, which I hear every year now when the All-Star Game comes around (I never heard that in 1980), I think about the 1983 game. Every time I see the All-Star Game come down to "which pitcher is able to pitch in this game and for how long," I think about the 1983 game. Every time I hear that someone is more excited about the Home Run Derby, in which batters hit fake home runs off of batting practice pitchers, I think about that '83 All-Star Game.
But I hadn't been thinking about it at all ... until Matt from Diamond Jesters brought up his April Fool's Day project for this year.
He mentioned that he was trying to get as many blogs as possible to show off a card from the 1984 Topps All-Star glossy set, and readers could visit various blogs and "collect" all the cards in the set.
I admit, I was a bit lost when he mentioned what set he was using. It didn't ring a bell. And then I realized what set it was -- IT'S THAT SET THAT COMMEMORATED THAT *$&*@%! 1983 ALL-STAR GAME!!!
Well, let's just reopen that old wound, shall we?
Even though the '84 All-Star Glossy set is readily available, I happen to have just one card from it -- the Steve Sax card, as he's the only Dodger in it (The Herzog card at the top is an internet image).
I'd like to say that subconsciously I've been avoiding the cards as a protest for recognizing this particular game.
But truthfully, they've just never been on my radar. Topps decided to abandon recognizing the All-Star starters in its flagship set, as it had done for years, and created an extra set so that it could entice collectors to buy special rack packs in an effort to complete that set. I was a high school graduate by the time this practice happened and wasn't falling for Topps' little tricks. I bought no rack packs between 1983 and 1988.
That was another change that I didn't like.
Really, this whole post is about change and dealing with change.
Events like Lynn moving on from the Red Sox and the NL losing the All-Star Game were some of my first experiences with change. I grew up in a stable house. There was no divorce, no family tragedy. I moved from school to school quite a bit, though, and I think that's where my aversion to change began.
I've gotten a lot better at it over the years. Obviously, life is nothing but a series of changes.
But I'll never get over what Herzog and Lynn and Hammaker did to my All-Star Game and how for a lot of people that game is now nothing special and inevitably, every year, someone says we should scrap the game and just give the players a week off.
I guarantee nobody who grew up in the '70s watching the game is saying that.