The All-Star Game comes with some great stories. Off the top of my head, I recall Ichiro's Inside-the-Park job in San Francisco, Mo Rivera's dramatic entry in the 9th as baseball said good-bye to Yankee Stadium in 2008, and Cal Ripken's farewell home run at Safeco in his 2001 "token" appearance at the mid-Summer Classic. For Indians fans, its usually just a token appearance by our players that we enjoy, whether it's Cliff Lee getting the ball for the last All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, Hargrove giving Nagy the ball in '96, or even Nagy's token single (while wearing a Rangers helmet) in the 8th inning of a 10-1 game in 1992.
Of course, if we begin to care about the result of the game, we tend to take those token moments with a grain of salt, and treat everything else in this exhibition as if it were real. Going back to the 2007 game in San Francisco again, despite Ichiro's very MVP-worthy performance, it was Victor Martinez with the two-out two-run shot off Billy Wagner in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave the American League their 13th straight non-loss. And, none of us will ever forget what happened at Carnegie and Ontario in 1997. After Javy Lopez tied the game at 1 in the top of the 7th inning, Sandy Alomar Jr. took the NL's Shawn Estes over the left field wall to give the American League a 3-1 lead, which would be the final score.
That was two similar stories of Cleveland Indians catchers using the long ball to secure victory for their American League squads with very different consequences. Alomar took home the MVP hardware, while Victor watched Ichiro receive a car as reward for being determined the game's Most Valuable Player, but beyond that, the win awarded the home-field advantage to the American League in 2007. There was nothing more to the result of July 8, 1997 than a really nice memory. We can credit that to an ugly night in Milwaukee somewhere in between.
On the surface, there was nothing wrong with the game in 2002. It was the high scoring affair that we've come to expect from Major League Baseball's featured affair in early July, with both managers emptying their bench in the interest of giving every fan base something to watch, even if it was the hometown crowd in Milwaukee watching their strikeout king, Jose Hernandez, strike out in two of his three trips to the plate. Obviously, the "everyone plays" mentality has a very specific side effect; it might leave you without the ammunition to finish a marathon type of game. And, while I'd hardly call 11 innings a marathon, Bob Brenly had no one left to go after Vicente Padilla had thrown 25 pitches in two innings of relief work, forcing Bud Selig to end the game in a 7-7 tie.
There was no winner, there was no MVP, just an embarrassed Commissioner answering questions about a game with no result. Arguably, for the American League, this was one of those Harvard beats Yale 29-29 kind of deals. Forcing the tie allowed the Junior Circuit to keep their five-game win streak in their back pocket, even if they had to refer to it as an "unbeaten streak". After the AL Stars got to Mike Remlinger and Byung-Hung Kim for 4 runs to erase a 5-2 deficit in the top half of the inning, the NL struck back with two of their own in the bottom half of that seventh frame to take back the lead at 7-6. It was the RBI triple off of Rob Nen in the eighth that tied the game at 7, a score that stuck until the NL had run out of arms to throw at the American League. That 3 base-hit that determined the final, even if not satisfying, score was hit by Cleveland's token representative, Omar Vizquel. Perhaps, we could recognize him as the de facto MVP of that one.
It was the All-Star game that ended in a tie, but the 1961 game at Fenway (the second of two All-Star Games in '61) was called due to rain. Milwaukee's Miller Park had a roof to prevent such an issue, so Selig wore egg on his face for allowing a game played without the interference of Mother Nature to end without a winner being determined. He took drastic measures to prevent such shame in the future.
We were coming off of the dramatic Game 7 walk-off World Series win for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a series against the Yankees where the home team won every game, and headed into a 2002 World Series that saw the Anaheim Angels win Game 7 on their home field. Current events dictated that advantage to be important, even if it didn't much matter to the Yankees or their opponents from 1998-2000. This was going to be where Selig would make the All-Star game more than just a silly exhibition; from there on out the winner of the Mid-Summer Classic would earn home-field advantage for their League Champion in the Fall Classic.
If you think about it, this could have worked for the Indians in recent years. In '97, they lost a Game 7 in Miami to the Marlins that would have been in Cleveland under Selig's revision, because of Alomar's heroics at Jacobs Field in early July. How fitting would that have been? In 2007, because of Victor Martinez, and I'll credit Ichiro here too, the American League did have the home field advantage, even if Boston didn't much need it in sweeping Colorado. I'm thinking that the Indians might have been a different story, but we didn't get to see that story play out, unfortunately, because the Indians couldn't finish what they started in the ALCS. So, we continue to see our dreams come true, only in a world of "What If?".
In the real world, making the All-Star Game "count" hasn't affected October baseball in a major way. The team with the home-field advantage is 6-3, but it was dead-even after the first six before the last 3 teams with home-field advantage got their rings. We've seen three sweeps in these nine years, all by American League teams with the home-field advantage, but the 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Phillies won in 5 games without this tremendous advantage. In a short series of 4 or 5 games, it's hard to argue that the venue is that great of a factor in determining our World Champion. I'd say it really only matters in a seven game series, which we saw last October, for the first time since 2002, but it was Game 6 where St. Louis benefited most from being in Busch Stadium. The 2-3-2 format put them at home, just as much as the NL's victory in Phoenix last July.
If it were up to me, I'd just let the All-Star game be what it used to be, a fun exhibition. Watching Mike Scioscia argue with the umpire on the south side of Chicago in 2003 killed the spirit of the game for me. Watching Justin Verlander sit next Ron Washington on Monday as he addressed the home field issue, specifically as it pertained to the Texas Rangers, who have played Game 1 of the World Series on the road the last two seasons, was a little awkward for me. Putting aside the notion that Verlander is going to hit triple digits on the gun for entertainment purposes, you've got to think he's got Game 1 of the World Series at Comerica in mind when he throws the game's first pitch in Kansas City on Tuesday. That's all well and good, but Verlander and Matt Cain or any other starter probably won't determine the outcome, and that's the flaw.
The whole thing is flawed when it comes to Bud's concept of making this meaningless game mean something. If we don't want the home-field to be random in the World Series, let's just give it to the better team that's actually playing in the World Series. There are other gimmicks out there, for the creative mind, to spark interest in the All-Star Game; what they're doing isn't right. For now, it still counts.
That doesn't mean I have to embrace it, or even understand why it has to.