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Endless Possibilities.
Posted Wednesday, July 7, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

Major League Baseball's All-Star game has featured some memorable moments since Babe Ruth fittingly hit the first home run in All-Star game history in 1933. The Babe, nearing the end of a phenomenal career, slammed a Wild Bill Hallahan pitch over the right field wall at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

The American League won the inaugural midsummer classic 4-2. The outcome was meaningless, but the exhibition – billed as the "Game of the Century" - was historical. For the first time, fans were able to watch "the greatest collection of baseball talent ever assembled on one field."

 
 


The All-Star game highlighted the 1933 season and became an annual baseball tradition. The final score has never had any substantial relevance, other than bragging rights. The attraction for true baseball fans to a game that some so-called "experts" have dubbed "meaningless" lies in the anticipation of the magical possibilities a game of this nature presents.

Moments that are only made possible when the game's best players congregate on a real life "field of dreams." If not for the 1934 All-Star game, New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell never would have had the opportunity to face a batting lineup that included five of the greatest hitters of all time. And he never would have performed the unthinkable – striking out all five batters consecutively.

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx struck out to end the first inning. To start the second inning, Hall of Famers Al Simmons and Joe Cronin went down on strikes and Hubbell's remarkable achievement went down in the history books.

In 1983, Boston Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn gained All-Star notoriety by becoming the first and only player in the history of the game to hit a grand slam. In 1955, Stan Musial became to first player to hit four career All-Star home runs and still holds the career record with six.

When Cal Ripken, Jr. stepped to the plate in the third inning of the 2001 All-Star game, the fans gave the retiring "Iron Man" a long and emotional standing ovation. Cal thanked the crowd by crushing a first-pitch fastball over the left field wall. While he rounded the bases, it was clear that the moment was far from "meaningless" even if the outcome of the contest was.

The great Willie Mays is the holder or co-holder of six career All-Star records including most appearances with 24. His achievements at the midsummer classic are so legendary that Ted Williams once said "they invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays." I think they invented the All-Star game to give us a chance to watch the game's best players compete against each other.

And play with each other. It hasn't gone unnoticed that the National League's starting catcher is Mike Piazza and there's a good chance the starting pitcher will be Roger Clemens. There's been bad blood between the players since Clemens beaned Piazza during interleague play when the future Hall of Fame pitcher was with the Yankees. It's interesting that, four years after the assault, the two might be the NL's starting battery.

After 74 All-Star games that featured all the great names in baseball history, it's hard to believe that there could be any more "firsts" left to achieve. But this year, for the first time ever, the National League's starting outfield will be comprised of three members of the 500 Home Run Club.

The All-Star record for most home runs in a game by one team is four – last tied by the National League in 1981. Bonds, Griffey, Sosa and the small, hitter-friendly confines of Minute Maid Park could combine to make it a record-shattering night in Houston next Tuesday. Magical moments; possibilities; that's why they play this game every July.

One person that will have the opportunity to witness any such moments is Mark Crummley, the 19-year old St. Louis Cardinals fan who caught Griffey's 500th home run ball. Crummley gave the ball back to Griffey without demands.

To show his appreciation, Griffey gave Crummley his game jersey and some other memorabilia. A week later, Griffey offered the kid an all-expense paid trip for four to Houston to watch the All-Star game.

In an era where every milestone baseball caught by a fan seems to end up in an auction on E-bay and many players are criticized for their selfish, boorish behavior, it's great to see both men step up to the plate and do the right thing.

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