The major league All-Star Game was once one of the top five events on the American sports calendar.
You had the World Series as the unquestioned numero uno, followed, in some order, by the All-Star Game, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, and the Rose Bowl. These were the most unifying sports extravaganzas, the ones that America was either watching en masse or awaiting the result. And the fact that the World Series and All-Star Games were daytime affairs only enhanced the interest. Funny. It wasn't necessary for people to see something in order to care deeply. Ah, it was a far, far different world, one that no amount of Seligerization can bring back.
Commissioner Bud Selig seems obsessed with fixing up his All-Star Game as he attempts to recover from the personally humiliating turn of events in 2002, when the game had to be halted in his hometown with the combatants tied, 7-7, when each side ran out of pitchers. No doubt he is under pressure from the TV people, who want whatever it will take to produce decent ratings, but it is clearly more than that. Bud wants the All-Star Game to have real, you know, meaning, and so he has come up with this ludicrous idea to award Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the World Series to the league that has won the All-Star Game.
Mr. Commissioner, please. Stop insulting our intelligence.
The major league All-Star Game is like a lot of things in life. It was once something that can never be again. No matter what Bud does, he is not going to remake the All-Star Game into one of the top five, 10, or perhaps even 15 events on the American sports calendar. But that doesn't mean he can't make it better.
Bud is a baseball historian of sorts, so he knows the All-Star Game has a glorious history. When it was created by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward in 1933, baseball reigned supreme in this country. Babe Ruth, the game's most legendary figure, then and now, cooperated by swatting the first All-Star Game home run, and for the next near half-century the All-Star Game provided American sports fans with some of its great moments.
Consider: Future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell fanning future Hall of Famers Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin consecutively in 1934; Ted Williams's game-winning three-run homer off Claude Passeau in 1941; Williams going 4 for 4 (two homers, two singles) in 1946 at Fenway while becoming the first person to hit a home run off Rip Sewell's infamous ''eephus pitch"; Red Schoendienst hitting a 14th-inning home run to win the 1950 game; Stan Musial hitting a 12th-inning homer off Boston's Frank Sullivan to win the 1955 game; Johnny Callison's three-run, ninth-inning homer off the late Dick Radatz to give the NL the triumph in 1964; Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse to score the winning run in 1970; Reggie Jackson blasting a Dock Ellis pitch off the distant Tiger Stadium light transformer in 1971; Fred Lynn's grand slam -- an All-Star first -- keynoting a 13-3 AL victory in 1983; and Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs greeting Rick Reuschel with first-inning, back-to-back homers in 1989.
And then . . . You tell me. OK. Hank Blalock taking Dodgers ogre Eric Gagne deep for the winner two years ago. That was pretty good stuff. But, really, who, when it's over, remembers anything about the All-Star Game anymore? Other than that enormous fiasco in Miller Park three years ago, and I'm glad you brought that up.
What a joke. They ran out of pitchers. They played 11 innings and they ran out of pitchers. They played 14 in 1950 and they didn't run out of pitchers. They played 15 innings in 1967 and they didn't run out of pitchers. They played 12 innings in 1955 and they didn't run out of pitchers. Gee. Why was that?
Because they actually let pitchers pitch.
See, once upon a time, they actually played this thing as a game. The game mattered. People wanted to win for their league pride. Remember, back in the day there was no interleague trading outside of waiver deals. That's right, none. The American League hated the National League, and vice versa. As late as the 1960s, National League president Warren Giles famously lectured his lads on the solemn duty they had to defeat the dastardly American League. Now there is no such thing as a league president. You think anyone on either side cares about what league he's in?
In the old days, everyone involved understood the deal. If you weren't starting, maybe you'd get into the game, and maybe you wouldn't. In 1935, the American League used 13 players to defeat the National League, 4-1. Lefty Gomez went the first six innings. Mel Harder pitched the last three. Repeat: two pitchers. In both 1937 and '39, the AL used 12 players. The NL used 12 in 1938. Yeah, I'd say they were different times.
But as late as 1958, the NL was only using 15 players. People were there to win. In that 2-1 loss to the NL in 1967 -- all the runs coming by solo homers -- the AL used just five pitchers. Catfish Hunter pitched the final five innings. For decades, and I mean this literally, if a starter was doing well, he was expected to go three innings, a practice that lasted into the '90s. Greg Maddux was the last three-inning starter, in 1994.
Somewhere along the way, we got stupid. Now the deal is that a starter can go two, and then we start the parade of guys going one, or less. And that's how you wind up in the ridiculous 2002 state of affairs, as Joe Torre and Bob Brenly ran out of pitchers when the game hit 11 innings. And forget about a position player really enjoying a big game. Now the idea is to get everyone in. It's like modern kindergarten. It's all about self-esteem.
It's less a baseball game than a baseball carnival, and yet Commissioner Bud wishes to invest it with real importance? Amazing.
If this game is to have a meaningful consequence, then make it a game. Eliminate the preposterous requirement that every franchise be included. Stick with effective pitchers and starters. Substitute when necessary, not when politically expedient. Have a game that's a game, and perhaps people might again start paying attention. Try to have a game that's at least 75 percent as important as the Home Run Contest. But don't get me started.
But Bud, just don't think that you can make it 1933, '53, or '73. It's a different world now. Deal with it.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.