All-Star Mania: Rise and Fall and Rise Again Of The Midsummer Classic

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All-Star Mania: Rise and Fall and Rise Again Of The Midsummer Classic
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

In 1933 at the World's Fair in Chicago, an event was held at Comiskey Park. The best of the best from all across the American League and National League gathered for an unprecedented exhibition game...an All Star Game. 

The result was a sweeping success that it became part of the baseball season each year, scheduled for midsummer. 

The Midsummer Classic provided fans a unique opportunity to see the best and brightest from either league competing against one another, an opportunity that could only have taken place in the World Series. 

Nonetheless, the World Series only provided the fans with a chance to see the two best teams of the game compete against one another. This was not necessarily a guarantee that the greatest players would be competing against one another. Indeed, the Midsummer Classic provided that opportunity. 

It was always a thrill for baseball fans to watch a Whitey Ford challenge a Hank Aaron or a Willie Mays, or a Bob Gibson challenge a Carl Yastrzemski.

Up until 1997 with the introduction of Interleague play, American League and National League teams never clashed in the regular season. It was one of the reasons why the Midsummer Classic was much more than a friendly exhibition, and the fans recognized that too. 

If anyone has doubts about the Midsummer Classic being treated as anything but an exhibition, remember Ray Fosse!!! Remember Pete Rose ramming into Ray Fosse to breakup a tag at the plate for the game-winning run in the 1970 All Star Game propelling the National League to victory!!! Yes, it was an exhibition...but Ray Fosse's career would never be the same after that great collision.

If anyone needed further proof of how the Midsummer Classic was seen as anything but an exhibition, examine the popularity of fan voting!!!  In 1947, fans were given the right to vote for the eight non-pitching starters for either side. 

Instantly, this new feature for the Midsummer Classic became the source for dubiousness. Although Cincinnati was not the only franchise attempting to be dubious, Cincinnati was the most successful in the 1950s.

The Cincinnati Enquirer would print already marked all star ballots in their sunday editions with all 8 starting positions filled with Cincinnati Reds. So, all Cincinnati fans had to do was rip out the ballot from the paper and submit it. And they could submit these ballots as many times as they wanted with each sunday edition!!! 

In 1956, this campaign successfully sent Reds into 5 of the 8 starting positions. In 1957, with an even more aggressive campaign, the Reds had 7 of the 8 starting positions. The lone position not filled by a Red was first base, which was won by the ever-so-popular Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The results of the 1957 vote angered Commissioner Ford Frick that he removed two of the seven Cincinnati Reds from the starting lineup: Gus Bell (CF) and Wally Post (RF).  In fact, Frick dismissed Post from the team completely, but he kept Bell on the roster as a reserve for the National League. 

In addition, Frick took the vote away from the fans...an edict that did not get reversed until 1970. 

To the fans, the All-Star Game was also about opportunity...opportunity to see their favorite stars compete with the game's greatest. An exhibition?  No way!

Talk about extraordinary feats! The All-Star Game has had plenty of those over the years.

In the second All Star Game ever (1934), one of the greatest pitching feats occurred.  New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell had the ball to start for the National League.  After walking the first two hitters he faced, he proceeded to strike out the next five batters in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin. All five batters would be future Hall-of-Famers. 

Hubbell's feat was only matched one other time: Fernando Valenzuela (1986).  Valenzuela struck out Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken Jr., Jesse Barfield, Lou Whitaker, and Teddy Higuera in succession. 

However, of the five batters he whiffed, only Ripken has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Thus, Hubbell's feat in 1934 edges out all to current date.

The 1971 All Star Game in Detroit featured a unique display of power hitting.  The American and National League combined for six homeruns. All six were hit by six different players, all of whom were future Hall of Famers [Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente].

Bo Jackson had the performance of a lifetime at the 1989 All Star Game.  He led off the first inning for the American League with a towering 448-foot homerun and then proceeded an inning later to steal a base becoming the only ballplayer since Willie Mays to accomplish hitting a homerun and stealing a base in the same All-Star Game.

From 1963 to 1985, the National League single-handedly dominated the Midsummer Classic, registering a record of 21-2 over the American League during those years. The National League was aided for half of that period of time with perhaps the greatest starting outfield ever, an outfield you can only dream about for the ultimate Fantasy League team: Hank Aaron (LF), Willie Mays (CF), and Roberto Clemente (RF)!!!

The All-Star Game was a tremendous spectacle. But, that all changed in 1997 with the introduction of Interleague play. The Midsummer Classic lost its luster. 

American League and National League teams were competing against one another in regular season games, which took away from the majesty of the Midsummer Classic. 

To put the harmful effect of Interleague play in perspective, the 1999 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees marked the first time ever in Major League Baseball history that the two teams competing in the Fall Classic had clashed in the regular season that year!

From 1997-2002, the All-Star Game fizzled into a ridiculous circus fest with managers working diligently to get all 30 players into the game at some point, even for only one at-bat or a half-inning of defensive work. 

This blew up in baseball's face at the 2002 All-Star Game in Bud Selig's backyard, Milwaukee. With the game tied after 11 innings, Bud Selig suspended the game as a tie because both teams had run out of players. 

This marked the lowest point in All-Star Game history. It prompted Selig to act something out...a new campaign. The winner of the All-Star Game would host the World Series rather than undergo a rotation each year between the two leagues. 

Astoundingly, this campaign renewed fan interest in the Midsummer Classic beginning in 2003.  While the "This Time It Counts" campaign was a success, the truth of the matter is: IT HAD ALWAYS COUNTED!!! Granted, the World Series was never on the line with the Midsummer Classic prior to 2003. 

But, the Midsummer Classic in the days before Interleague play was always a catchy rivalry between stars in two leagues that never competed against one another unless it was the World Series.

The Midsummer Classic has proven to be the MOST POPULAR All-Star contest among all American professional sports.  Period.

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