When I was growing up, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was a far bigger deal than it is today. There are myriad of reasons for its decline.
It’s safe to say the ASG was a major beneficiary of baseball’s reserve clause which bound a player to one team until a club either traded or released him. While that deprived players economically, it meant fans saw the same players playing for the same league every year at the midsummer classic.
That made it easier to root for either the National or American league. With free agency and interleague play long a part of the game, the idea of identifying with or rooting for either the AL or the NL seems to be a quaint notion.
The restriction of players prior to 1975, resulting in greater “league identity,” motivated players, who took the ASG very seriously. A good example was the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose running over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in the bottom of the 10th inning of the 1970 ASG to win the game for the NL. That kind of intense play would never happen in the ASG nowadays. Then again, that might be a good thing since Fosse’s promising career was never the same after that.
The concept of league identity also meant baseball’s best players always showed up for the game. You did not hear of players seeking frivolous excuses to avoid participating, as has been all too common in recent years.
The game itself may have been dwarfed by events surrounding it. The Home Run Derby, held the night before and won this year by Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, gets far more buzz than the ASG itself. The Futures Game, spotlighting the best minor leaguers, gets more and more attention. This year MLB moved its annual draft from June to the Sunday night before the ASG. It turned out to be a brilliant move. For years, the draft received a fraction of the attention of the NFL and NBA drafts. It could be argued even the NHL draft had a higher profile. The Mets’ first-round pick, Vanderbilt University pitcher Kumar Rocker, got known to fans far quicker than top selections of past years.
Former Mets manager and current Stamford, Conn., mayoral candidate Bobby Valentine had a good idea on SNY last month. He suggested players on the winning team get paid and that a designated charity of their choosing also receive money. Valentine added the losing team shouldn’t get paid, but I don’t think he’d mind if a charity of their choice got rewarded.
And MLB should ditch those hideous uniforms and let players wear their team uniforms as they had in All-Star Games before this one.
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Mets general manager Zack Scott held a very candid press conference last Tuesday when he acknowledged the Mets’ play this season has been disappointing to say the least. “We’ve been mediocre, and at this point, we’d take mediocre!” he said following the Mets’ disastrous road trip that saw them drop five games in the standings and out of the lead in the National League East.
Scott also criticized players, though none by name, for not following health regimens, leading to injuries. He must have been thinking of pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who took his “Thor” nickname nonsense too seriously, by working with weights instead of concentrating on stretching and yoga exercises, which are far more beneficial to a pitcher.
After a dreary road trip, the Mets played one of their best games of the season on Aug. 11 as they beat the Washington Nationals by a score of 8-7. The Mets rallied from three runs down twice in the game before pulling it out on a pinch-hit single by Brandon Drury, who has shown a propensity for coming through almost every time he is asked to come off the bench for an at-bat.
While the win was nice for the struggling Mets, what made it special is the hitters did not swing at bad pitches, and made productive outs that either drove in runners or at least advanced them. The Mets were even successful at bunting. I thought I had been transported back to the 20th century.
Before the game, I asked manager Luis Rojas if the Mets’ recent skid was taking a toll on him off the field. “You have to forget about the game when you leave the ballpark. My wife wouldn’t put up with me if I let it affect me at home. She has a very calming manner, which helps!” he said with a smile.
The late James Brown took pride in calling himself the hardest-working man in show business. The Godfather of Soul would have to tip his hat to former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson. In recent years, Burleson has been a co-host of the NFL Network’s “Good Morning, Football, an analyst on CBS’s “The NFL Today” and a correspondent on the nightly entertainment news show “Extra.”
Next month, Burleson will become a co-host on “CBS This Morning.” CBS News executives are hoping Burleson will bring them the success former Giants linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan has brought to ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Burleson will remain in a different capacity with the NFL Network, as well as stay in his current role on “The NFL Today.” My guess is Viacom, CBS’s corporate parent, will ask Burleson to leave “Extra,” and eventually give him a role on “Entertainment Tonight,” which they own, if Burleson wants to keep a toe in the world of showbiz.