NEW YORK — The names illustrate just how long 44 years takes to pass better than a number ever could. On July 23, 1969, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson were the No. 3 hitters. Steve Carlton pitched three innings and earned the win for the National League. Johnny Bench and Willie McCovey hit homers. Phil Niekro recorded the final out at RFK Stadium, and in the 44 years since, baseball’s all-star game has not come back to Washington.
Twenty-six cities have hosted the all-star game since RFK Stadium hosted it two generations ago. The Nationals and the District would like that to change, and they expect it will. They have been waiting since Nationals Park opened in 2008 to bring the Midsummer Classic to the nation’s capital. The Nationals have petitioned the commissioner’s office and the city has planned for the showcase eventually to come.
Tuesday night, the best baseball players in the world will line up on the foul lines at Citi Field. An army of media and fans will sleep in New York hotels and eat at New York restaurants. It may not happen until 2017 at the earliest, but the Nationals and the District expect the same scene and the same economic jolt to happen at home.
“It’s only a matter of time,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “The Nationals, they’ve proven to be a contender. Eventually the District will host the all-star game and we’re really looking forward to it. The District is the place to be right now.”
Nationals ownership has made clear its desire to host an all-star game in Washington, but the team declined to comment for this story other than to release a statement through spokesman John Dever.
“As indicated in the past, the Nationals organization would be honored to host the All-Star Game on behalf of Washington, DC and our dedicated fan base,” Dever said in an e-mail. “We look forward to celebrating our national pastime at Nationals Park, with the nation’s capital providing a fitting stage for the finest all-star game in sports.”
The Nationals are well-positioned to host the game. Baseball has a vested interest in promoting the sport in Washington. The city’s all-star drought helps their case. Commissioner Bud Selig has told, and continues to tell, teams that if they open a new park, they will be placed in top consideration to host the game.
Franchises wishing to host the all-star game submit bids to the commissioner’s office, stating their case and laying out how they would handle the logistics, from bus routes for players to ensuring requisite lodging. The commissioner then selects the host city. There is no vote and little deliberation; it is Selig’s decision.
To host this year’s game, Mets officials “began the conversations” with MLB “a year or two” before Citi Field opened in 2009, Mets spokesperson Jay Horowitz said. The Mets also had to contend with the Yankees, who received their wish to host the game in 2008, the final year of old Yankee Stadium.
The Nationals hoped to win the bid for the 2015 All-Star Game, but MLB awarded the game to the Cincinnati Reds, who opened Great American Ball Park in 2003. This spring, principal owner Mark Lerner said he believed the lack of development around Nationals Park at the time MLB made the decision was a factor.
“It’s not a pretty sight when you walk out the door and see holes in the ground and the thing they have next door — the Bullpen, or whatever they call it,” Lerner said. “I think it’s unfortunate. I think baseball wants to see it at least start, some things starting to happen, a few of the buildings get done. But we’re going to get [an all-star game] at some point.”
Washington’s next target to host the all-star game will have to be 2017, because MLB alternates between playing the game in the American and National leagues. It is not hard and fast — Pittsburgh and San Francisco held the event in 2006 and 2007 after a confluence of new National League parks opened. But with the Reds hosting in 2015, an American League park will almost certainly host in 2016.
The Padres opened Petco Park four years before Nationals Park opened and have yet to host the game. The Marlins’ new stadium opened just last year, but Miami could still be in the running because the Marlins have not held the game since they came into existence in 1993.
The Dodgers may also be a threat. They have seen cornerstone franchises with venerable stadiums like the Red Sox and Yankees receive the all-star game since Dodger Stadium last held it in 1980. They would badly like to host the game and, with a new ownership group, may have a significant chance.
The Phillies have yet to host since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, but the Nationals don’t have to worry about them. The Phillies prefer to wait, angling for the 2026 Midsummer Classic. Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium hosted the game in the bicentennial season of 1976 (and in 1996), and they would like to host again when America turns 250.
“It would be pretty incredible to get an all-star game,” Nationals all-star outfielder Bryce Harper said. “They would be a lot of fun. Coming to D.C., they’re so many things to do in D.C., with all the monuments and so much history in D.C.”
Ribeiro said bringing the game to Washington would bring an “undeniable” economic boost and allow the city to “showcase the wonderful progress the District has made in the last 10 or 15 years.”
In planning the all-star game, the Nationals and the city would work with Events DC. President and chief executive Greg O’Dell said there had not been a study to measure the financial boost, but that MLB estimated most cities generate a $50 million windfall from hosting the game.
“That would be as good as any benchmark,” O’Dell said.
It would also give the Nationals’ fan base an event to rally behind. Last year, Kansas City hosted the game, and the prestige of the all-star week hovered over the whole year.
“From Day 1 of the season, it was kind of all about the All-Star Game,” Royals all-star outfielder Alex Gordon said. “The fans were so excited about the All-Star Game and so thrilled it came to Kansas City. I’ve seen Washington’s ballpark. I think it would be an amazing place to do it.”