Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade — No. 25: All-Star Game no longer counts

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We’re a few short days away from the dawn of the 2020s. So, instead of counting down the Top 25 stories of the year, we’re taking a look at the top 25 baseball stories of the past decade.

Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most over the past ten years.

Now that our honorable mention is out of the way, let’s get to number 25: The All-Star Game no longer counting

Once upon a time the All-Star Game mattered to those who played it. At least a little bit. The American League and National League were wholly separate and, in the days before free agency, there was far less player movement. Way more guys would spend their entire careers in one league or the other then than now. There was more league pride at stake. The NL wanted to beat the AL for its own sake and vice-versa.

For the fans there was built-in interest as well. Due to the lack of interleague play and far, far fewer televised national games, fans of an NL or AL team were far, far less likely to see players from the the other league. If you lived in, say, Detroit in the 1960s, when were you ever going to be able to see Hank Aaron or Willie Mays? If you lived in Philly in the 1980s, what were the odds that you’d ever get to see Robin Yount or Rickey Henderson?

Between free agency and interleague play that dynamic began to break down in the 1990s and with cable packages and on-demand games on the Internet, it was all but gone by the turn of the century. By then the All-Star Game had transformed into a true exhibition whose participants often didn’t even want to be there or who treated it like a big party. At some point along the line, All-Star managers took to making getting everyone a chance to appear in the game their top priority, and the ever-expanding All-Star rosters would be all but cycled through by the time the ninth inning rolled around and lesser All-Stars would figure in the outcome far more often than the big, big stars voted into the game by fans. Really, no one cared.

That lack of caring led, inevitably, to an embarrassing situation: the 2002 All-Star Game that, infamously, resulted in a 7-7 tie, declared as such by Bud Selig, who was caught for posterity in all of his exasperated and embarrassed glory, arms up and shoulders shrugged when he realized there was nothing he could do.

In reaction to that, Major League Baseball tried to make the All-Star matter again, declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would be decided by the outcome of each year’s All-Star Game. “This year it counts!” the slogan went. That system was in place from 2003-2016. And both the slogan and the idea of the All-Star Game determining home field advantage was widely and rightfully mocked. Mostly because it was seen as an insult to fans and players that something as important as that was decided by something as unimportant as the All-Star Game.

Take 2008, for example, that year Braves second baseman Dan Uggla committed three errors in a sloppy, 15-inning National League loss to the American League. The Phillies managed to pull out the World Series that year, but imagine if they hadn’t, and Uggla was subjected to a career-defining bit of ignominy as a result. It just always seemed like an ill-advised system hatched to spare Bud Selig further embarrassment like he experienced back in 2002.

Thankfully, the idea was scrapped in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now the All-Star Game, again, decides nothing. And, beginning in 2017, the regular season — the games that actually mattered — determined home field in the World Series instead of a coin flip or some alternating-between-leagues thing or from something as dumb as the result of an exhibition about which everyone ceased to care a good 30 years ago or more.

So if the All-Star Game no longer matters and no longer counts, is there anything we can do to make it relevant at all?  Maybe history can show us a way.

The first All-Star Game was not, actually, the 1933 game which launched the annual series we have today. It was in 1911. That was a benefit game for the family of the Cleveland Naps pitcher, Addie Joss, who retired in 1910 due to a bad elbow and then died unexpectedly in April 1911 due to tubercular meningitis. It was just an American league affair, with players from the eight junior circuit teams converging on Cleveland for the game. It raised the modern equivalent of about $350,000 to cover Joss’ medical bills and to help provide for his family. Pretty noble, eh?

The 1933-present version was conceived by a Chicago newspaper editor after the mayor approached the paper for ideas of a big sporting event to serve as an attraction for the 1933 World’s Fair, which was taking place in Chicago. A baseball game was the winning idea. In addition to the Fair promotion, the game was seen as a morale-booster for a Depression-scarred country and, like the Addie Joss game, had a philanthropic purpose, with proceeds from the game going to a charity for disabled and needy major league players, of which there were no small number back in those days.

The current All-Star Game is surrounded by a number of secondary philanthropic efforts — community outreach and charity auctions and things — but the game itself is just a big circled date on the Fox Network’s calendar and one of the larger line-items on Major League Baseball’s income statement attributable to those broadcast rights sold to Fox. Maybe if that changed and, instead, the game was given some off-the-field purpose it once had, the apathy over the game might go away?

Feel like we’ll never find out.


Honorable mention: Astros Sign Stealing Scandal

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.