The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, also known as the Midsummer Classic, was born out of an unlikely union between the National League and the American League.
Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward got his idea in 1933 when the Windy City hosted the Century of Progress exhibit, later known as Chicago World’s Fair. Chicago officials have asked local sports journalists to submit ideas for a sporting event that would attract people from outside to the fair. Ward was convinced that a match between the best players in the National League and the American League, with teams selected by the fans, would be a huge success. To promote the contest, Ward called it the “game of the century.”
But first, Ward needed the approval of the league presidents, which was no small feat. Ward persisted, took his case to AL President Will Harridge and NL President John Heydler, and argued that the game would enhance the sport and attract baseball bugs across the country. When Ward proposed that the proceeds of the game be donated to charity and that the Tribune would guarantee losses in case the rain canceled the game, Harridge and Heydler gladly agreed.
Since 1933, the All-Star Game has been played every year except 1945 and 2020. For four years, from 1959 to 1962, two games were played, an experience that players did not like and ultimately rejected.
The All-Star Game quickly captured the nation’s imagination and became the most anticipated sporting event of the year. Fans have selected two resplendent teams of baseball’s biggest stars, many of whom have made it to the Hall of Fame. Among them were positional players Frankie Frisch, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor, Charlie Gehringer, Joe Cronin and pitchers Carl Hubbell and the two “Lefty’s”, Gomez and Grove.
The two brightest stars were New York Yankees immortal Lou Gehrig and Big Bam Babe Ruth. The All-Star Game took place on July 6 at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Gehrig’s participation was in doubt. Yankees management feared that if Gehrig played, the Iron Horse might not be able to return to New York in time for the next day’s game against the Detroit Tigers. The train ride from Chicago to New York City took approximately 24 hours. A missed game would cost Gehrig a chance to break Everett Scott’s 1,307-game streak.
Gehrig never hesitated. If selected, Gehrig said: “I will happily go and give up my chance at Scott’s mark.” Gehrig, who called playing an “honor,” returned to New York City early enough to continue his batting streak and on August 17 he broke Scott’s record.
Once the details were settled, 49,000 fans gathered, a crowd full. Even though the country got through the years of the Great Depression, seats, priced in the regular season, sold out in about 45 minutes. Finally, at 1:15 pm, under sunny skies and mild temperatures, the referee shouted “Play Ball”.
Fans didn’t have to wait long to see what they had come for. In the third inning with a runner on first base, Ruth, 38, and her career in decline, crushed a low liner in the right field stands. Ruth’s explosion explained the AL’s two-point winning margin that led the NL, 4-2.
Ward would have a hard time recognizing the 2021 All-Star Game as a baseball event. It has more in common with a three-track circus than baseball.
Under the direction of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Coors Field debates are a weeklong carnival. Some activities require a ticket, Manfred’s preferred type of corporate sponsored income-generating events: the Sirius XM Futures game; the Celebrity Softball Game featuring, as the MLB website promises, “some of Hollywood’s biggest stars”; the Gatorade Work Out Day and the T-Mobile Home Run Derby. Other money-focused events follow.
On game day, “Baseball’s Biggest Stars March in Style at the Red Carpet Show” Denver is the next best thing to be among the glitz of Hollywood at the Oscars.
Finally, the MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard, a sort of baseball game, will begin. The millionaire entrants, some of whom earn bonuses for being elected, will make cameo appearances, play one or two rounds, and then give way to the substitutes. For reference, of the 16 positional players who started the 1932 inaugural match, 14 played all nine innings.
Manfred killed baseball’s long-standing traditions with his silly rule changes and All-Star Game overhaul. Dinosaur fans are at a crossroads – follow the Manfred stream and wait for the inevitable debasement of the beloved national pastime, or find another more enjoyable way to spend the long summer months.
Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers’ Association. Contact him at [email protected]