It’s tough to know even what to make of the All-Star Game at this point. Having gone through more makeovers than David Bowie and Madonna combined, baseball’s Midsummer Classic is now an unwieldy mass of headache-inducing contradictions and half-assed attempts at “everything to all people” relevance. Let’s see:
It’s an exhibition game, yet it affects the outcome of the World Series by deciding home-field advantage. It’s an event that celebrates baseball tradition, but which now mandates the use of the designated hitter, even when the contest is played in a National League park. It’s a game played for charity (most of the gate receipts are donated to the players’ pension fund), but it’s also a major cash cow for MLB, which slaps corporate sponsorship over anything and everything associated with the event, a la this year’s “Gatorade All-Star Workout Day featuring the State Farm Home Run Derby.”
The All-Star Game is also supposed to feature the best players in each league (hence, you know, “The All-Star Game”), yet the starting lineups are chosen by fans who stuff the ballot box on behalf of their hometown favorites, which is why leading NL MVP candidate David Wright will be warming the bench for Pablo Sandoval this year, and why marquee names like Matt Kemp make the squad despite being too injured to actually play.
Then there’s the whole byzantine multi-tiered selection process for pitchers and reserves that includes player voting, input from the respective AL and NL managers, and the fan voting via text/internet — sorry, we mean the “2012 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone”— to determine the last addition to each team. And did we mention the idiotic requirements that every team in each league must be represented by at least one player, that each All-Star roster must contain three relievers, and that the managers must hold some of their players in reserve during the game in order to avoid another embarrassment like 2002, when Commissioner Bud Selig called the game a tie after both teams ran out of pitchers? Sheesh — play ball, already!
And yet — here come the contradictions again — the Midsummer Classic has also produced some of the most iconic memories in baseball history, like Carl Hubbell fanning a “murderer’s row”of five straight future Hall of Famers in 1934, Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse to win the 1970 contest in extra innings for the NL, Reggie Jackson nearly hitting a ball over the Tiger Stadium roof off Dock Ellis in 1971, Dave Parker gunning down two runners with laser-like throws in 1979, or Ichiro Suzuki legging out the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history in 2007. It’s the potential for Olympian moments such as these that keep us (well, some of us) tuning in to the All-Star Game each year, despite all the extraneous bullshit.
So with the 2012 All-Star Game less than a week away, we asked our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: What’s your favorite All-Star Game memory?
Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Position: Guitar, Vocals
My favorite All-Star Game memory is Reggie Jackson’s towering home run in the 1971 All-Star Game, which was certainly the furthest ball ever hit by someone not on steroids.
I grew up loving the Oakland Raiders and was a huge Bo Jackson fan. I’ll always wonder how far he would have gone if he wasn’t injured. Anyway — as great as he was in the NFL — seeing him hit that 400+ foot home run in the 1989 All-Star game was crazy. He also won the MVP Award for the game. Ridiculous athlete.
Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards
As a really young kid at the beginning of what I can believe to be my coherent memories, “Bo Knows” was everywhere. I was obsessed with Bo Jackson. In the 1989 All-Star Game, he was an incredible force — stealing a base, hitting a home run and making crazy catches in the outfield.
Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Position: Vocals, Guitar
I loved it in 1993 when Randy Johnson threw over John Kruk’s head, proceded to strike him out on sliders away, then later denied that he was intentionally throwing at him. Classic Big Unit…
1984, Candlestick Park in San Francisco — the Fernando and Doc Show. Fernando Valenzuela and 19-year-old rookie Dwight Gooden strike out consecutive sides in the fourth and fifth innings. Valenzuela’s victims were Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson and George Brett. Doc sat down Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis. Bad night for my American League boys but, I must say, pretty fucking great baseball.
Of course the Babe’s first-ever ASG HR ranks high, but that was before I was born. The 2002 TIE was amazing and FRUSTRATING, and Teddy Baseball’s winning three-run HR in ’41 was great, as was the UBER MAJESTIC feat of striking out five HOF’ers, consecutively, as Carl Hubbell did in ’34; Reggie’s ’71 moonshot off Dock Ellis was memorable, as was asshole Pete Rose’s ’70 crushing Ray Fosse into retirement and arthritis. But for me, as a 10-year-old in ’64, the ASG memory that burns brightest was Johnny Callison’s three-run home run off Boston’s Dick Radatz in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the 1964 All-Star Game at Shea Stadium.
I’m not that big of an All-Star Game fan. The fans’ idiotic voting, which is surpassed only by MLB’s idiotic inability to put the proper players on the ballot, leaves me a bit cold on the whole affair. That being said, my top All-Star memories have to be Pete Rose’s game-winning barrel-slide into Ray Fosse in 1970, and the mammoth home-run hit by Reggie Jackson in Tiger Stadium in 1971. There were a number of big blasts in that game, but I remember that Reggie’s blast just seemed inhuman. Impossible. So, it’s telling that my favorite All-Star memories are both from a good 40 years ago!
I’ve seen a lot of great All-Star Games over the years, but my favorite All-Star Game memory is one that actually happened before the game in 1999, when Ted Williams was brought out to throw out the first pitch and received almost childlike love and admiration from legends of their own time, like Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk and Mark McGwire. For a guy who shunned cheap emotion and pageantry during his years as a player, his final big moment on the field was a real tearjerker.
My favorite All-Star Game memories are not about the game itself, but the Home Run Derby! All-Star Games generally have a lack of competition, even with the added incentive of home field advantage in the World Series, whereas the Home Run Derby is about machismo and ego and the right to be the home run king that year. That’s what makes it the most exciting part of the All-Star Game break.
I never watch the All-Star Game. I just don’t care.
Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Position: Vocals, Guitar
Honestly, I have never liked watching the All-Star Game. Even now that it “means something,” it still fails to motivate me to watch it. I remember once having a bad summer cold and watching the game. Must been in the late 1970s. Felt like crap. The next day I felt better.
Dan Epstein‘s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, is now available in paperback.