Baseball began celebrating its 50th anniversary All-Star Game today with a gentle, unashamedly sentimental gathering of ancient and modern stars.
On a brisk, sunny afternoon before 27,653 fans, a gathering of 41 Hall of Famers set the festive tone in a nostalgic and graceful Old-Timers Game played in beautiful, refurbished Comiskey Park. Just moments later, 58 current American and National League stars held their workouts in preparation for Wednesday's game (8 p.m., WRC-TV-4).
Then, the AL, behind Toronto right-hander Dave Stieb, will try to end its amazing and freakish streak of 11 straight losses. The NL, with Cincinnati's Mario Soto on the mound, will try to extend a dominion that has reached 19 victories in 20 games.
The same man who threw the first pitch in the original All-Star Game here July 6, 1933--Lefty Gomez--also pitched to the first two batters of the oldsters' game, Enos Slaughter and Ernie Banks.
Afterward, as 14 players from that '33 All-Star Game gathered 'round, Gomez told tales not about his pitching but about his hitting. Everybody remembers that Babe Ruth, appropriately, hit the first All-Star home run, but it was Gomez, one of the worst hitters in history, who drove in the first run.
"When I drove in that run, 80 people fainted," said Gomez.
"All of 'em pitchers," snapped Leo Durocher.
After dozens of legendary players like Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Edd Roush (age 90) and Billy Williams (upper-deck homer to right) had finished their innocent play--with the National League, of course, winning, 6-5--there was a lovely interlude as modern players implored the vets for autographs.
"I was like a little kid runnin' around," admitted three-time NL batting champion Bill Madlock. "I hated doin' it, but I did it. I wouldn't even have been disappointed if they'd turned me down, but none of them did. I had to get those guys like Mays and Musial and Mathews that I grew up watching and reading about. Of course, I'd never heard of some of the older players, but they probably never heard of me, either . . ."
This was a day for lots of boyish delight, even from old men, as well as one constant and recurrent question--how in the world has the National League won 19 of 20, and when is this statistical anomaly going to cease?
Every baseball fan knows that even if the NL were vastly superior--and even NLers don't contend they are more than marginally better--it shouldn't be able to win 95 percent of the time. The worst team in the big leagues beats the best team one game in three and the gap between the AL and NL is nowhere close to the gulf between the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The NL streak, including a 29-run difference in the last 11 games, has gone so far beyond common sense--Ted Simmons, who has caught for both All-Star teams, calls it "the most freakish thing in sports"--that some ALers have been reduced to treating the whole thing as a joke.
"Maybe we ought to start our relief pitchers," said Kansas City reliever Dan Quisenberry. "Or maybe we ought to quit altogether. You know, like when you're a kid and you say, 'If I can't win, I don't want to play.'
"Actually, I think the National League's secret weapon has been their imported Norwegian cottage cheese . . . The other thing is, have you noticed, whenever the American League comes to bat, the wind blows straight down."
Some, like Simmons, however, not only take the subject seriously, but show the veins in their necks as the discussion progresses.
"If the American League would win a blasted game, then people would stop asking me that question. There is no difference between the two leagues," says Simmons.
"People say, 'Well, you're really a National Leaguer, right? Still a St. Louis Cardinal at heart.' No, I play for the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League and I like it, okay? I'm tellin' ya, honest, there's no difference. The talent in the two leagues is very even. The styles of play are all mixed. Players go back and forth all the time.
"Two years ago, we had the game won," continued Simmons, recalling one of five straight games in which the AL has blown a lead. "I'd have bet your house and mine both that what happened wouldn't have happened. But Mike Schmidt hit a two-run homer off Rollie Fingers."
This year, the AL has a fairly typical team--lot of home run power, not much speed except for Rickey Henderson and Willie Wilson and unimpressive starting pitchers; that is, unless somebody thinks that Rick Honeycutt, Rick Sutcliffe and Matt Young are headed for Cooperstown.
The AL's starting lineup, with slightly injured Fred Lynn, slumping Dave Winfield, homerless Manny Trillo and rusty Rod Carew, is solid but hardly fearsome. Starter Stieb (10-7, 2.54 ERA) has lost his last two games and looked a bit tired. The AL's strength is its better-than-usual bench and its bullpen of Quisenberry, Tippy Martinez and Bob Stanley.
Actually, the AL's greatest friend may be ex-American Leaguer Herzog. He has a fixed notion in his head that an All-Star team should be made up strictly of this year's hottest players. As a result, he has selected what some might consider the most bizarre National League team in memory.
Herzog left off Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Pete Rose and Bruce Sutter and picked such virtual unknowns as pitchers Bill Dawley, Dave Dravecky, Atlee Hammaker, Gary Lavelle, Jesse Orosco, Pascual Perez and Lee Smith. He wanted to leave off Fernando Valenzuela until the NL president overruled him.