Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of one of the premier Midsummer Classics of the past 50 years, a Hall of Fame home run fest at Tiger Stadium. Six future Hall of Famers went yard that night in the All-Star Game, though Oakland’s Reggie Jackson took it a bit farther. He went light tower on the rightfield roof.
All of the runs in the American League’s 6-4 victory over the National League — a rarity in those days — were the result of home runs. Never happened before, hasn’t happened since.
That the memories of that July 13, 1971, evening remain so vivid for those who saw the game in person or watched NBC’s national broadcast reflects how special this game remains.
It’s always fun remembering what once was, but it’s pointless lamenting why it can’t be that way again.
These aren’t All-Star players anymore.
They’re All-Star investments. Many share the same agents — and that competitive animosity among rivals simply isn’t there anymore.
But unlike the NFL Pro Bowl or the NBA and NHL mid-season interruptions, baseball has an All-Star Game worth saving, because it’s the only one in which there is no defensive deviation from the regular season.
The problem is that the powers-that-be made the exhibition game too complicated. Baseball is brutally difficult in execution, but it’s rather simple in design — pitcher vs. hitter. There remains nothing more competitively hypnotic than the best pitchers staring down a winner-takes-all duel against the best hitters.
That was true 40 years ago at Tiger Stadium.
It’s true now.
Baseball should ditch the “Sunday Rule” that prohibits starting pitchers from participating in the All-Star Game if they started two days earlier. The rule cost Tuesday’s game six prominent starters: Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and James Shields.
I understand why it’s done. Owners are worried about their potential $100-million investment tweaking a shoulder or an elbow. But I have a hard time believing that such extraordinary athletes couldn’t pitch to one batter in the later innings without much physical risk, despite having thrown more than 100 pitches two days earlier.
Limit those guys to one batter.
Could you imagine the drama Tuesday night if Verlander strolled out from the bullpen in the eighth inning of a tight game with runners in scoring position and Albert Pujols pinch-hitting?
I don’t care if you’re not a big baseball fan. If a friend texted you and said you needed to see this, you would switch the channel from a Food Network show talking about how to best to use a combination of rhubarb and bubble gum and watch that showdown.
Verlander couldn’t pitch. Pujols mistakenly didn’t make the team because NL manager Bruce Bochy thought he needed a third catcher in case of extra innings since the determination of World Series home field hangs in the balance.
Baseball has blown a great promotional opportunity, and the lords of the sport have overtweaked the parameters of the All-Star Game to the point of rendering it virtually useless.