The only problem was that you wanted it to be everything baseball wasn't for 59 days, and more. And that just couldn't be. But it was baseball. There were five home runs and the National League was true to form, if nothing else was, winning for the 10th consecutive time, 5-4. There are some things the strike did not interrupt.
"From what I can see," said Bill Madlock of the Pirates, "the American League is just sitting over there waiting to get beat."
At least it waited until the eighth inning, when Mike Schmidt of the Phillies hit a two-run home run, the National League's record-tying fourth, off Rollie Fingers of the Brewers to put the American League out of its misery once again.
Nonchalant? No way. Schmidt almost barreled into Dick Williams, the third base coach, as he rounded the bag. After 59 days, it's hard to do a high five and run at the same time.
"It was as good as I ever felt running around the bases," Schmidt said. " -- as good as the World Series."
The American League had taken a 4-2 lead with a three-run sixth inning, a lead that would have been larger had not Dodger Dusty Baker made a sensational diving catch on a fly ball by Al Oliver of the Rangers.
The most valuable player award went to Montreal's Gary Carter, whose two leadoff home runs made him the fifth man to hit two in an All-Star Game. Dave Parker also hit a home run for the NL. Baltimore's Ken Singleton produced the game's first run with the AL's only home run.
The Giants' Vida Blue was the winning pitcher, making the former Oakland star the first pitcher to win an All-Star Game for both leagues.
Earlier today, baseball averted a boycott of the game by its umpires, who agreed to arbitration, if necessary, over five strike days for which the owners are refusing to pay the umpires. The umpires also agreed to continue negotiations over the pay structure for the first tier of the playoffs unique to the modern major leagues.
An All-Star record 72,086 in Cleveland Stadium witnessed the return of baseball, including Vice President George Bush, who threw out the first pitch -- and whose arm appeared to be in at least as good shape as Fingers'.
"Right now," Fingers said, "I feel like I'm one or two weeks into spring training."
Which is too bad, considering the regular season will be resumed Monday with a full schedule, beginning the second half of a controversial split season (Details, Page D5). But Bush would have been no match for Bruce Sutter, the Cardinal reliever, who has won or saved the last four All-Star Games. "Maybe sometime, they'll get me," he said.
Maybe that time will come when the American league is not forced to send its pitcher to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, as Jim Frey, American League manager, did tonight. Frey had used all his nonpitchers and, when Fred Lynn injured his knee breaking up a double play, Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb had to bat for himself.
"When I went to bat in the ninth," said Stieb, "I had Rick Burleson's bat, Buddy Bell's glove and Tom Paciorek's helmet. I'd have been extremely surprised if I had touched the ball."
Stieb was hardly surprised; he struck out. Dave Winfield, the only American League player to play the entire game, flied out to left to end the game.
Before it began, Parker, whose abdominal largesse seemed larger than usual, sat on the dugout steps looking perplexed. "I'm just trying to get adjusted," he said.
He seemed to speak for everyone: George Brett of the Royals, who said he felt "like a race car that hasn't been tuned up yet," and the fans who came equipped with 10,000 whistles, courtesy of the American Baseball Fans Association and the determination to whistle (derisively) after the first pitch of every half-inning. But, as the game grew longer and better and more familiar, the whistlers were drowned out by those who were just glad to have baseball back again. Undoubtedly, they included the man in the stands with the sign that said: "All Star Game or Bust."
Baseball bombarded the senses, with fireworks, and sky divers, and an American flag 100 yards long, and mostly with itself.
The first pitch since June 11 was, thankfully, not a strike. And except for Singleton, whose second-inning home run gave the American League a 1-0 lead, the early innings were less than striking. Errors were charitably called hits and some plays belied the term "midseason classic."
But it developed into one, as the National League produced all its runs with home runs. The four home runs tied the All-Star record for most home runs by one team. The National League last did it in 1960.
The American League led until the fifth, 1-0, on the home run by Singleton, who had two hits and scored two runs. "I got a pitch down the middle of the plate and that's what I'm supposed to do with it," he said.
Carter was equally matter of fact. He hit two home runs, the first on the first pitch of the fifth inning to tie the game. "When you're in an All-Star Game like this, you're just up there hacking," Carter said.
Parker hacked away at the American League in the top of the sixth, with a 400-foot homer into the right-field stands. The American League then scored its three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 4-2 lead, and perhaps, a deep breath. For a moment, it appeared, they might actually win.
". . . I supppose we'll win one some time," Frey said.
But not tonight. Not with Carter in the lineup. On the first pitch of the seventh inning from Yankee reliever Ron Davis, Carter hit the ball toward deep center. Once again, Winfield went, back, back, and once again to no avail. The National League was behind, 4-3; the American League was seeing ghosts.
"On a normal turf, in an important game in the regular season, I catch that ball two out of three times," Winfield said. "I guess that was the third time."
Of course, center field is not Winfield's normal position. And the turf, abused by rain and football players, was hardly normal, either. Baker pulled a groin muscle making his catch on Oliver.
But some of the sloppy plays could not be attributed to the turf. In the top of the eighth, for example, Ozzie Smith of the Padres led off with a walk off Fingers and stole second base. So far so good.
But Cleveland catcher Bo Diaz threw the ball into center field and clutched his helmet in anguish. Smith, however, had rounded second too roundly and was out, the play going 2-8-5-6-1. The play was as complicated as a free-agent compensation proposal.
But Schmidt simplified things. After a walk to Mike Easler, who plays for Pittsburgh but comes from Cleveland, Schmidt put the National League ahead for good with his two-home-run to center field. Again Winfield leaped; again it was no use.
Dallas Green, the National League manager, said, "I think everyone showed they enjoyed playing a game of baseball. Dusty Baker made a heck of a play and (ailing) Andre Dawson played the whole game without a whimper."
"We played well, got hits, scored runs," said Frey. "The players were disappointed they didn't win but now it's on to the rest of the season."
Hopefully, without a whimper.
Did the players have something to prove? "Nah," said Pete Rose, who has nothing to prove. "That's like saying the air controllers gotta win them back. They're gonna take planes."
And they're gonna watch baseball.