Bring it back to Chavez Ravine!
Today being the occasion of the Mid-Summer Classic, I thought it would be appropriate for me to share some of my All-Star memories here–that is, of the games I’ve attended in person.
The first ASG I ever remember watching was in 1970, from brand new Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, and I remember the excitement that seemed to surround this contest between the best players of each league. The NL won, of course–5-4–a standard I would become used to over the better part of the next couple of decades.
But, the first one I saw played live on a field right in front of me was on July 11, 1978, in the former San Diego (now Qualcomm) Stadium. It was San Diego’s first ASG–a big deal, as the first major sporting event to be held here. (San Diego hadn’t hosted a Super Bowl yet.) I’d been given tickets as a high school graduation gift. While I’d been to World Series games before, I was excited at the prospect of a game like this drawing fans from all over the country.
The National League was on a roll, having won 15 of the previous 16 games. Their team consisted largely of Dodgers and Reds players at key positions, and featured several future HOFers including Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Rollie Fingers, Joe Morgan and Bruce Sutter, as well as other stars of the ’70s such as Dave Concepcion, Davey Lopes, George Foster, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Rick Monday, Ron Cey, Phil
Niekro and Tommy John.
Local boy Bob Boone, representing the Phillies in the NL, got a huge ovation upon his introduction. So did Graig Nettles, representing the Yankees in the AL, another San Diego product. Padres outfielder Dave Winfield was the lone position player representing the Pads.
Future HOFers George Brett, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Palmer were on the other side. So were other big names such as Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry. It was so different to see fans of so many different teams wearing their various colors and jerseys as they converged on Mission Valley.
The National League won, 7-3, and how fitting it was that my favorite player, first baseman Steve Garvey, was named MVP of the game. Two years later, in 1980, Dodger Stadium hosted her only All-Star Game. I attended it with my boyfriend, who was a huge Mets fan. We had tickets on the reserved level, which was a good thing because it allowed us the opportunity to see what was being unveiled at the ASG as the first-ever “Diamond Vision” board at a North American major sporting event. The concept was so technologically advanced at the time it had to be seen to be believed. You mean the camera could capture people in the stands and beam them, live, for the whole stadium to see? Wow! I went home raving to all my friends about how Dodger Stadium had the only one of its kind, and I’d actually been there in person the first day it was operational. That was the way it stayed for another few years until they were eventually standard fare at ballparks across the country. I’m proud to say the Dodgers have always been trendsetters!
But, the game. Many of the same players returned from the 1978 game, with a new addition at shortstop in the American League. That was Alan Trammell, Detroit’s third-year player who was quickly gaining respect around the league. Since as an NL fan I didn’t get much of a chance to see AL players, it was an awesome thought to me that only four years ago, I’d been watching Alan star on our high school field. He had also played youth baseball with my stepbrother. Now here he was, not only playing in the majors, but excelling and becoming known and applauded nationally. Within another four years, he would be the 1984 World Series MVP.
The NL won again, 4-2, with the Reds’ Ken Griffey being named Most Valuable Player. It was their 17th victory over 18 years.
This fact was perhaps filed away or forgotten until my next All-Star Game, 12 years later, held again at what was now known as San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. In that decade-plus in between, I’d attended some of the festivities surrounding the game when the Big “A” in Anaheim was the site of the ASG in 1989, but not the game itself.
The “FanFest” was a newer concept that MLB had added to the All-Star game events which had not previously been offered, but was pretty popular by its third year, when I attended it in 1992. To me, it seemed like the best thing this side of Cooperstown…or heaven. All baseball, all through the ages, interactive exhibits, World Series highlights…well, it just doesn’t get any better than this, does it? I salivated at the sight of all those memorabilia collectors with special items on sale in the next hall of the Convention Center.
So, to 1992. In ’92, I was preoccupied with some other things going on in my life and wasn’t even going to attend the game, but then my mom secured two tickets for the outfield bleachers and asked if I wanted to go with her. I didn’t hesitate.
For fans of good pitching–and I’m a pitching-based fan–this was not a pretty one. The AL won, 13-6, in what was the beginning of a long dominating string of wins by that league. The names were certainly different from the 1980 All-Star Game. A whole new crop of players was on the rise, and the old veterans who’d been multiple All-Stars were on their way out. Even my beloved Steve Garvey had retired a few years earlier.
(Trivia note, the 1992 ASG was the first major league game to feature the “base cam” with an actual camera inside the first base bag.)
Whereas Padres outfielder and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn wasn’t even a rookie the last time I’d been to an All-Star Game, here he was in his 11th season in 1992, starting for the National League on his home field. Other notable established players on the NL squad were Ozzie Smith, Barry Bonds, Fred McGriff, Terry Pendleton, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, Larry Walker, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Ryne Sandberg, Will Clark and Tom Glavine. The American League team featured Roberto Alomar, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett, Roger Clemens, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Mark McGwire, Brady Anderson (another local product from our county), Edgar Martinez and Joe Carter.
But the Most Valuable Player was the young rising superstar Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners. How interesting that over a period of a dozen years, I’d seen both Jr. and Sr. named MVP of ASGs I’d attended.
It was noteworthy that the tide had begun to turn with the AL now putting together a string of domination. This was the NL’s fifth consecutive setback.
Fifteen years later, in July, 2007, my friend Emma and I took a little trip up the coast to the City by the Bay–San Francisco, California, home of the archrival Giants–as beautiful AT&T Park hosted its very first All-Star Game, the first one in the City since the 1984 contest in Candlestick Park. We didn’t go to the game, but attended the FanFest. It doesn’t matter how many times I get to the FanFest, I’m still like a kid in a candy store!
Unlike the era when I was coming of age in baseball, by this time, the National League had failed in its attempt to win the last nine games (not counting the tie result in 2002). Over the years, the All-Star Game had lost a bit of its lustre, with many fans losing interest largely because of interleague play which began in 1997. Before its inception, this one game in July was the only interleague game until October.
And the National League still waits. Its last victory was in 1996, in Philadelphia, when Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza was named MVP. Piazza, of course, is retired now.
This year’s All-Star Game may be played in St. Louis, but it will definitely have a California flavor to it.&n
bsp; Fifteen of the players for the NL and AL are California born and bred. In particular, my southwestern corner of California has had a huge part in providing talent for the rest of the nation. For roughly 35 years I’ve been watching youth and high school baseball, attending tournaments all over this region, then following and tracking the careers of many of our Southern California boys who learn the game on our ballfields here, and go on to excel for major league teams all over the country. This trend of future All-Stars started with the great Ted Williams, Red Sox legend who was born and raised right here in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. Keep in mind that even though the Pacific Coast League was wildly popular back in the 1930s and ’40s and launched the careers of quite a few greats, Major League Baseball wasn’t played west of St. Louis, which is 1500 miles away. It’s as if the MLB map included only the East Coast and Midwest and the rest of the country–that is, the West–was “minor league territory”, or perhaps a nice place to vacation or hold spring training workouts. So for a player to catch the eye of a major league scout back then was not quite as easy in this area as it is today. In ensuing years, the great Jackie Robinson and “The Duke of Flatbush” Snider, both Brooklyn Dodgers/Hall of Famers, were All-Stars who had gotten their starts on the ballfields of Southern California.
Special props to two of the younger SoCal players who’ve made this year’s All-Star team for the AL: Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is an All-Star for the second year without having played even one full season yet. Although he was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2008, he was a mid-season call-up. And how about Adam Jones, Orioles center fielder, who’s an All-Star in just his second full season? Last, another regionally-produced player, Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, should be an All-Star, but isn’t. Of course, he’d probably excel for the AL team, so maybe it’s a good thing. 🙂
So, the game may be played in St. Louis this year, but St. Louis is the Gateway to the West, and the West is not only where many of the players come from, but it’s also where the next two All-Star games will be played–Anaheim, California in 2010, and Phoenix, Arizona in 2011. I will be in attendance at Angel Stadium, and hopefully at Chase Field as well.
A few trivia items:
-In 2003, Aaron and Bret Boone became the 14th set of brothers to be All-Stars, and the Boone family was the first to send three generations to the ASG. Their dad, catcher Bob Boone, made four All-Star teams, and their grandfather, Ray, was a two-time All-Star. The Boones have their roots in San Diego, where Ray played for Hoover High–just a few years behind Ted Williams.
-On August 3, 1959, the first-ever Midsummer Classic to be played west of St. Louis took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This was the home of the Dodgers, who would later that year become World Champions. The American League won, 5-4. The starting pitcher for the NL was a Los Angeles native, playing for his hometown team in his home ballpark, future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.
Who is the only player to make it into an All-Star game by write-in ballot, only to later become MVP of that game? Hint: This player is a multiple All-Star who played exceptionally well in those exhibition games over the course of his 17-year career.
Yes, it’s Steve Garvey who was written in for the 1974 contest. Garvey went on to be named National League Most Valuable Player while leading the Dodgers to the World Series that year.
Will this be the year for the Senior Circuit? We can surely continue to hope so.