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Keidel: MLB All-Star Game The Only One Worth Watching

Jason Keidel
July 16, 2018 - 2:50 pm
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By Jason Keidel

Every baseball fan has a fond All-Star Game memory. Older fans remember Reggie Jackson's soaring homer at Tiger Stadium in 1971. Or Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse in 1970. Younger fans likely loved and laughed at John Kruk sheepishly checking out of the batter's box against Randy Johnson in 1993. Who can forget the pageantry of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway or the dazzling production of Pedro Martinez in salute to it. We even have some sardonic recollection of the tie game in 2002. 

Now name your favorite NFL Pro Bowl Game memory. Then share that singular, NBA All-Star Game moment. Exactly. 

For all our yearly griping about our pastime's midsummer classic, it is easily the one with the most offense, defense, and effort. Maybe you shook your fists in abject anger when the MLB suits decided to put home-field advantage in the World Series on the line. You chided the sport for allowing a tie in a game that prides itself on never having ties.

Half the NFL All-Pros skip the Pro Bowl to nurse some phantom injury while others skip it because they are playing in the Super Bowl. NBA All-Stars play the All-Star Game with the playground's allergy to defense. But baseball players are actually eager to play in the game, and actually care that their fans voted them in. Even those who chuckle at the notion that every MLB team must have at least one player in the All-Star Game can at least understand why. Maybe it hardly nudges the ratings needle, but it speaks to the inclusiveness of the sport. 

No, we probably can't name the Kansas City Royal, Detroit Tiger, or Miami Marlin representing their respective club in tomorrow's game. (We can name the Baltimore Oriole only because Manny Machado has been involved in every trade rumor belched over the last month.) But even if you can't pick Salvador Perez (Royals), Joe Jimenez (Tigers), or J.T. Realmuto out of a lineup, it's not as if they're keeping Aaron Judge or Mike Trout from getting their moment in the sun or swings under the stars.  

And while all sports trade on the notion - if not the fantasy - of parody - the Midsummer Classic is the exemplar of fair play. Indeed, there have been 88 MLB All-Star Games, and the record between the American League and National League is 43-43-2. 

The only NBA event of any cachet is the Slam Dunk Contest. But baseball matches that with the Home Run Derby. The NFL Pro Bowl is played with the implicit understanding that you don't sack the quarterback or tackle fragile receivers with any ferocity, as any savage hit could injure someone in an otherwise meaningless game. 

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Fair enough. But that's exactly what gives this week's game its athletic and emotional authority. You can play your hardest without harming your opponent. And there's at least some advantage to having it played under perfectly warm summer skies. And since MLB clubs are off the clock the day before and after the All-Star game, this contest is the only stand-alone game without any competing sports to watch. Monday and Wednesday are the only two days of the year when there are no MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL games being played.  

And when you consider the first such game was played on July 6, 1933, baseball had a considerable head start on the other American sports. The NBA played its first such game in 1951. The NFL wasn't whole until the merger in 1970. Only the NHL comes close, with its first All-Star Game in 1934 - played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. You can imagine the freckling of American fans listening to it on radio, if the broadcast were even available beyond Buffalo.

The point is we've always had some grudging, if not aesthetic, appreciation for the showcase event of our pastime. No one can think of the progenitors of the other maiden All-Star Games. Then ponder the players in the 1933 MLB game. Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Jimmy Foxx, and Lefty Grove were just some of the names...just on the AL squad! The National League trotted out players named Pie Traynor, Carl Hubbell, and Lefty O'Doul. You may have heard of the managers, Connie Mack and John McGraw, who represented the AL and NL, respectively.  

Like Rob Manfred said on ESPN this morning, 70 million people will attend major-league games this summer, with another 40 million taking time to watch minor league clubs. Only a fraction will watch the exhibition game tomorrow night. But we can all agree that we are likely to take in an inning or two, because it's the only one really worth watching. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel