The All-Star Game sure makes me feel old. And I think it’s not age — because I still look amazing! — so much as innocence lost. I’m not a starry-eyed kid anymore. There’s nothing magical about it for me anymore.
Quick story: Just last year, my son — a huge football fan — was all excited to watch the Pro Bowl.
The stinking Pro Bowl!
I was thinking to myself, “Are you out of your mind, kid?”.But I had to admire his naivete. He was genuinely excited to watch all those stars on the field.
I’m a few years older than you, Jimmy, and have some dimming but fond memories of the last All-Star game we hosted. I was excited that my favorite player Ron Hunt was starting in the game. It happened to be a great game, the National League won it in the ninth on a Johnny Callison home run. I didn’t enjoy that moment much though as I was still angry that manger Walter Alston pinch hit for Hunt with Hank Aaron one batter before that. Aaron struck out. See folks, and you have problems with Collins, imagine pinch hitting for Ron Hunt with that bum Aaron? The NL had to win despite their manager.
Clearly, interleague play has laid waste to the All-Star Game. And these days there’s a lot of puffery that goes along with it. I don’t think younger generations can really imagine what it was like. We’d wonder how Seaver might do against Mantle (struck him out, of course, in ’68), or how our NL boys — Mays and Stargell — might fare against that hot-shot kid from Oakland, Vida Blue. Unless those players made the World Series, it was our only chance to see those match-ups. Today it’s ho-hum.
Interleague play is a piece of it. Mostly a lot of things changed. Other than the “Game of the Week,” there were no national broadcasts. And until 1969 the playoffs included two teams. Then it went to four, now it is ten. Things change. But the biggest change for me is I’m not ten.
My earliest All-Star memory was the 1968 game in the Astrodome, a taut 1-0 contest. Seaver pitched two innings in that one, but Tom was never my guy. Even today, as much as I enjoyed watching him pitch, the mastery and dominance, I never felt any great affinity for the man. My guy was Jerry Koosman. Back then, managers used pitchers for 2 and sometimes 3 innings. It wasn’t this endless parade of guys we see today, players who had to get into the game or there would be tears. The mentality was completely different. Night and day. So I was thrilled when my favorite pitcher, Cool Koos, was brought into the game with two outs in the 9th to face Carl Yastremski. It was a 1-0 game, Jerry’s first All-Star moment, and everything was on the line. As a fan, I sure cared who won, and I think the players did, too. Koosman struck him out on all fastballs. I was that idealistic kid, just seven years old, eating it up.
Recalled Koosman in a recent article, “Just getting selected for the All-Star Game was a real feather in your hat because in those days, the players voted, so it wasn’t a popularity contest. It was all that I thought it would be and then to enter the game with one swing of the bat on the line, winning or lose, you feel like you’re walking on air.”
Yes, and the year before Tom Seaver had a similar experience in his rookie year, he was brought in for Don Drysdale to close out a 15 inning NL win. I spent that entire game annoyed that Tom was not being used, eventually I got my payoff. Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, and later Doc, hard throwing strikeout pitchers is part of the Mets All-Star legacy.
That is another great memory for me, Gooden striking out three of the six batters he faced in the 1984 game. Fact is we already knew what we had, but for most of the country that was a coming out party for Gooden. It’s a different world in the information age so Matt Harvey is no secret but he is in a similar situation as Gooden in 1984. Watching Harvey is what most excites me about the game.
“Excites” is not a word I’d use. But I am hoping that he comes out like an animal, just firing 98 MPH bullets. Maybe 99 MPH. Oh hell, Matt — gives us one at 100 MPH! One inning, maybe two. I’m happy for him.
My favorite part of the All-Star game has always been the introductions. I mentioned Hunt, another childhood memory I have was watching the 1969 game on TV during a childhood vacation in Bangor Maine. The only reason we had a TV in the cabin was that my Dad borrowed one so we would not miss Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Of course I remember that, but another memory of the trip was Cleon Jones being introduced as the starting All-Star left fielder in the 1969 game. As with Hunt I was very excited, but not enough to turn around and bat with my non-dominant side.
Ha, yeah, that’s me. Throw lefty, bat righty. I didn’t do that in homage to Cleon, so much as I was taught that way at a very early age, watching my brothers or whatever. Probably lost 50 points off my career Little League average because of that parental screw-up. I shoulda been a lefty slugger! If Koosman was my favorite pitcher, Cleon was my favorite position player. One of my favorite baseball cards was from the 1970 Topps set, featuring the 1969 National League Batting Leaders: Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, and Cleon Jones. I felt proud — I really think that’s the word, I was proud of Cleon! — for making it to the front of that great and noble card.