Peter Gammons: 2017 ASG was fun and the way the event should be

How the 1981 All Star Game ended really didn’t matter. There was no twitter, no television or radio sport shock-talk, no blogs, so when American League manager Jim Frey had to bat Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb in the ninth inning with one out and none on down a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, there were questions asked and answers given. Period.

Frey had saved Fred Lynn for that situation, Lynn was apparently unaware, and, as was the case with so many players in the game in the Seventies and Eighties, had left and was flying home to Boston as Stieb grabbed a bat.

We were simply happy that The Strike was over and we’d seen the first game played by major league players in more than two months. We were happy to see Gary Carter hit two home runs, happy to be in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium—then known as the Mistake on the Lake.

Personally, my mother had died a week earlier, my father was going on life support, and the return of baseball was a diversion to familial agony. Baseball is routine, everyday life, normalcy from the fracture of ones life, the reminder that life goes on in 3/4’s time, one measure at a time.

Let’s be honest: no sport’s all star game is that sport’s reality. We fell in love with the slam-dunk contests; while Larry Bird and Bill Russell won championships, as did Michael Jordan’s defense and Lebron’s inclusive game and the team game that made the Warriors and Spurs so extraordinary. Baseball’s All Star Game decides nothing now; the World Series home field advantage probably should be decided by which league wins the interleague play series. anyway.

The Home Run Derby is baseball’s slam dunk contest. Sure, there are no Max Scherzer sliders or Kenley Jansen cutters or Craig Kimbrel curveballs, just as there was no Russell to drown away the dunk over a car. The way MLB has shortened and tinkered with the contest has probably made it the highlight of the three day event, except those of us like John Manuel, Jim Callis and myself for whom the Futures Game is the event.

It’s fun, and it leads to what the All Star Game is becoming—a showcase of the best players playing a game for fun, the way they played in their backyards and empty fields when they were ten years old. These are people, not statistical broadsheets. They’re human. Clayton Kershaw, one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived, said before the game Tuesday that while he couldn’t pitch in the game (he started Sunday), he was “honored” to be there “because they do such a great job with the event and for the players and it’s fun to be with so many great players.”

This is not about W.A.R. or Win Probability or Zips or w/OBP. It’s just an exhibition of the best having fun playing the game, knowing almost every one of us would love to be out there on that field with those players enjoying every moment. Frank Robinson wouldn’t have been miked and talked to Joe Buck while he played right field, but having Bryce Harper do so—in his Jose Fernandez memorial shoes in Fernandez’s ballpark—was fun. Fine. Human. The guy’s a generational talent who has been on center stage since he was turning old enough to get his driver’s licence. It was fun.

Thurman Munson wouldn’t have had someone take a picture of him with Doug Harvey, as Nelson Cruz did with Joe West. It was fun. Still, Chris Sale and Scherzer openly talked about the joy of facing the best hitters in the game. Mookie Betts’ 92 MPH throw to second was worth watching, maybe the game’s highlight. So were Nolan Arenado’s joy, the sight of Carlos Correa and Corey Seager… Joey Votto taking his humor and personality out of his locker…and on, and on. Kevin Millar got the best of Votto, Sean Casey and David Ortiz explaining Aaron Judge’s swing was simply great television.

Then give thanks for the respect and dignity of Judge and Cody Bellinger.

While we’re at it, if the game is tied after nine innings, rather than moving on, why not designate three batters from each team to have a five swing Home Run Derby shootout? Either that, or have Chris Gimenez on the AL team.

The voting is something fans are supposed to get into, not be critiqued like a law school exam. Pitching changes in an exhibition to not need judicial review.

It is what it is. Fun. I remember how much fun it was, in The Mistake by the Lake and with Dave Stieb having to hit, because we knew how much we need the daily routine of the box scores, the six month life known as the season that diverts us from the real world.

So I hope Mookie is wired next season, or George Springer or Jose Altuve. It is what it is: the best baseball players in the world having fun playing like they’re ten years old, again, reminding us that we’re only young once, but we can always be immature.

Comments

  1. Dr. Peter Nanos says:

    Peter continues to be an advocate for constancy and change with the game we so love. Nobody does/says it better!

    The various “feel good” activities associated with this All Star game were refreshing!

    May the game continue to move forward, celebrating its long tradition and cherishable lore, while concurrently introducing innovation and entertaining new concepts.

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