This day in baseball history — the all-star game devolves

In the 1963 all-star game, American League manager Ralph Houk did not use a player from the Cleveland Indians (the host club), the Washington Senators, or the Kansas City Athletics. He did play all five New York Yankees on the AL squad.

National League manager Alvin Dark used at least one player from all 10 National League teams. But he did so at the expense of some huge stars. For example, Ray Culp and Hal Woodeshick pitched; Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax did not.

During the next 30 years, the approach of all-star managers evolved as they tried to play at least one representative of each team, yet also play most of the fan favorites. Their solution was simply to use all of their players, even as the roster size expanded.

In the 1993 all-star game, played on July 13, in Baltimore, the managers seemed to get it right. NL skipper Bobby Cox used 25 players. Only three players (all pitchers) did not appear. 13 of the Senior Circuit’s 14 teams had at least one player participate (Houston’s representative, the late Daryl Kile, didn’t pitch).

Cito Gaston, managing the AL, did even better. He played 26, with only two players left behind. One of them was Pat Hentgen from Gaston’s own team; the other was Mike Mussina of the hometown Orioles. And Gaston played at least one representative from all 14 AL teams.

Cito Gaston

Yet, this wasn’t good enough for the Baltimore crowd. Late in the game, Musina began warming up in the bullpen, even though Gaston hadn’t asked him to. When it became clear that Gaston wasn’t going to use him in the ninth inning – he opted for Duane Ward of his Blue Jays instead — the Baltimore crowd began booing the manager and chanting “Cito sucks.”

I was at the game and the razzing of Gaston nearly spoiled the occasion for me. The contest was a lop-sided NL win, but had been a fun affair highlighted by Randy Johnson embarrassing John Kruk.

The Oriole fans had no divine right to see Mussina pitch. Indeed, the righty had been shellacked in his previous three starts and, with his 4.10 ERA, had only a tenuous claim to being an all-star. Ward, a relief pitcher, took a 2.17 ERA into the break.

After the game, Gaston said he didn’t use Mussina because he was holding him back in case of extra innings. As a starter with rest coming into the game, Mussina would be he best candidate for extended duty, Gaston reasoned. But this explanation was met with skepticism because the NL had a six run lead in the ninth inning.

In the years following the 1993 game, all-star managers tried even harder to make sure everyone on their squad played. In doing so, they seemed to mirror the societal trend in favor of “trophies for everyone.”

But there were consequences. Nine years later, the all-star game, played in the Commissioner’s hometown of Milwaukee, was suspended after 11 innings with the score tied 7-7 because the two teams, collectively, had used all 19 of the available pitchers.

Of course, both clubs had a pitcher in the game at that point. But NL hurler Vicente Padilla, who had worked two innings, said he couldn’t pitch any more.

The Milwaukee crowd booed the suspension robustly, and with far greater cause than the Baltimore crowd had jeered in 1993. The all-star game had experienced its reductio ad absurdum moment.

Afterwards, the all-star squads were expanded by two players per team and managers were informed that if they run out of players, they will be held responsible. Somewhere, Cito Gaston must have smiled.

Finally, hoping to pump more meaning into the once prestigious exhibition game, MLB decided that the winning League would be rewarded with home-field advantage in the World Series.

Have these changes significantly improved the all-star game? I don’t know. I no longer watch it.


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