Something's wrong with me. I hate the All-Star Game. Have for years.
It's the one game of any baseball season about which I care least. Several times I haven't even bothered to watch it on TV when I had nothing else to do.
I felt this aberrant way before I ever got a press pass and, fight the feeling as much as I've tried, I still think the whole thing's usually a bore.
I suspect it's more the antithesis of baseball than its epitome.
Many of the good qualities that baseball appeals to at some subliminal level, the All-Star Game denies or ignores.
Baseball is for every day -- part of a long novel-like season full of fully developed twists of plot and character; the All-Star Game is a once-a-year attempt at a high-decibel rock concert. Baseball is low-key, relaxed and one of our better sources of metaphor; the "Midsummer Classic" is hyped, frantic and a poor place to look for durable insight.
On every other day of the season, baseball preaches a balance between the needs of the team and the gifts of the individual. Here, that equilibrium disappears and a circus exhibition atmosphere prevails.
Because there are so many fine players here, none really seems to have enough space around him or enough light upon him. In a way, the stars are diminished by the clutter of celebrity. Usually, the game seems to turn to its heroes at crucial moments by a sort of internal timing. But, in the All-Star melange, who's a hero?
Men who've earned their status as protagonists are reduced to cameo roles. The most interesting characters actually might be the players like Ernie Whitt of Toronto who don't belong here as "stars" but who very much deserve an All-Star ring to mark a dignified career.
By marvelous luck, baseball was given a game of accidental perfection. Here, that pure structure is mocked. Pitchers leave after three innings. Lineups are juggled each inning. The best players have showered by the time the game is decided in the late innings. Your scorecard isn't a souvenir. It's a hieroglyphic.
Even the simplest strategy might contravene the silly rules of this game. Tuesday night, for instance, National League Manager Dick Williams could not send up a right-handed pinch hitter for Graig Nettles with the bases loaded in the third inning -- something he probably would have done in a regular Padres game -- because Nettles, voted to the lineup, couldn't be removed until the fourth inning.
Everything around the game here was warped and unfamiliar, too.
Tuesday night, the crowd of 54,960 was force-fed a "pregame show" with barber shop quartets, cutesy antique automobiles, turn-of-the-century fire engines and about a thousand white-clad cheerleaders pretending to lounge casually all over the plastic field. The music was shlock at deafening volume.
What is this? The Gator Bowl?
What happened to batting practice as a proper preliminary?
Next you'll tell me that, on a gorgeous 80-degree summer night in the Minnesota lake country, baseball played its "showcase" game indoors. Maybe in '86 we could line up the Astrodome, the ugliest sports facility in America.
Oh, it's all set? Grrrreat.
Just for fun, I decided this morning that I'd pick my three favorite All-Star Games of the last 25 years.
I couldn't. There haven't been that many.
Yes, there have been fine All-Star Games, the history books assure me. It's just that few of them have happened since I was 12 years old back in 1960.
You could say it's been a long wait. Each year, I fall in step with the general mood of expectation that this year the game finally will be special. And each year, the "spectacle" is either a total snore or tolerably pleasant at best.
As George Brett said, "I've been in 10 of these All-Star Games, and there's always excitement in the air, but none in the game."
As a sad rule, the All-Star Game combines lousy competition, poor drama and hype-induced tedium in a perfect perverse balance.
Since 1960, the National League leads this taut battle by the narrow margin of 25-3-1. The only AL victory in the last 13 years was a 13-3 blowout with no tension in 1983.
Why, in just the last 13 years there have been a grand total of two one-run games. A mere 15 years ago something happened that was worth a photograph (Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse).
When All-Star programs are made each year, it's touching to see how many of the pictures are of Carl Hubbell, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and other figures from the '30s, '40s and '50s. It must have been better then.
Perhaps the key to enjoying the All-Star Game, rather than grinding your teeth to dust over it, is to change your expectations completely for one night.
Of course, the All-Star Game isn't a game at all. It's a collection of gestures and postures, a montage of faces and physical styles that we keep in our mind's eye for years. If we come here for the play, we're disappointed, but if we settle for spontaneous impressions, it can be pleasant.
This evening during infield practice, for instance, Carlton Fisk stood at home plate and did impressions of the batting stances of his teammates, even going into a crouch with a two-inch strike zone a la Rickey Henderson.
Again this evening, the All-Star Game went to bed early and left no wake-up call. As usual, the AL seemed overanxious and hexed by its worry jinx. Again, the lineups became a shambles. And, again, no one player seemed to do enough to make himself a genuine focal point.
Compared to the pleasures of an August doubleheader between two losing teams, the All-Star Game doesn't offer much.
Compared to a genuinely exciting pennant race contest, it's hardly baseball at all. But look at it this way. It could be worse.
The strike-bound owners and players, desperate to grab a few more million dollars from the fans' pockets, could make the All-Star Game a best four-out-of-seven series.