Idol Chatter

Baseball’s All-Star Game was televised in prime time again last night, and it continues to endure as an underrated, understated institution that stands as the finest and brightest of all of the major sports’ all-star games. Why is that?
A large part of the American viewing public–and, increasingly, the world’s viewers–have a special spot in their hearts for this game, otherwise known as “The Mid-Summer Classic.” The ratings show it, and the networks know it. Major cities (and their ballparks) vie in the very competitive world of who gets to host the future All-Star Games. Here are five possible reason why–at least among people of faith–the game is so enduring:
5. Tradition. As much as the newest generations and “cultural creative” types long for new and fresh experiences in life, there is comfort in tradition, especially those with meaning that don’t put us to sleep. The introduction of the reserves, the introductions of the starting line-ups, the boos for the rivals and the cheers for the home-team guys, the ceremonial honoring of legends, the National Anthem, the ceremonial first pitch, and in some years the moment of silence are all components of the slow and non-boring lead-up to the game. I tuned in at 8 because that was the advertised time. The game didn’t start until 9, and I didn’t mind, because baseball is the only game that can do an hour of pre-game and get away with it. And when “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” come in the 7th, all are patient, united and inspired, even when there’s technical difficulties as there were last night.

4. Authenticity. Baseball’s All-Star game is played like a regular season game, just like any other. In basketball and hockey, there is no real defense. In football, the guys can’t afford to hit each other, and the season is already over when it’s played. But in baseball, every pitcher is throwing the real stuff, every hitter wants to shine, and every position player on defense is looking to make a memorable play. And, the winning league of the game gets to play host to the extra game of the World Series, which means dollars, a competitive edge, and an extra game for their fans, so even the competitive spirit is real. Not so in other sports.
3. Heroics. For some reason, baseball players have long transcended the game and been considered heroes, and it stands out in the All-Star Game. Some of the most heroic moments include five strikeouts in a row by Carl Hubbell (’34) and the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela (’86), Stan Musial’s 12th-inning home run to complete a 6-5 comeback win in ‘55, Tony Perez’ 15th-inning homerun to win the ’67 game, Pete Rose’s 12th-inning bulldozing of Pete Fosse, separating Fosse’s shoulder and winning the ’70 game, monster homers by legends Robinson, Killebrew, and Jackson to win the ’71 game for the AL, Fred McGriff’s game-extending homer in ’94, and Texas’ Michael Young’s two-out, two run triple to win last year’s game.
2. Stability. Yes, it’s a slow game, but it’s always there, and the baseball game is a welcome chance to celebrate it. From the Big Train to the Big Unit, the Splendid Splinter (Ted Williams) to the Sultan of Swat (Babe Ruth), Sweet Lou to Joltin’ Joe, Three Finger Brown to Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Stan the Man to Dennis the Oil Can, Mr. October to the Rocket, baseball players have the longest careers of all major sports (except golf, I suppose), allowing fans to grow attached and look forward to seeing familiar guys.
1. Hope. Baseball is the only major sport where the ending point is always in doubt. There’s no clock. There’s no set number of minutes, rounds, sets, laps, or points. This year’s game was almost over–before lasting another half hour, as the NL scored two runs, loaded the bases, and went through two pitchers before losing by one swing. As Yogi said, “It aint over ‘til it’s over.” Also, old guys can still play with young guys. Short skinny guys can have long careers and shine, and it’s the most diverse sport in terms of race and nation. Whether it’s the Mid-Summer Classic or any game during the season, baseball brings hope in the Spring that lasts through the summer, at least as long as the All-Star Game.
As it turned out, this year’s hero was Ichiro Suzuki, who hit the first inside-the-park homerun in All-Star history as the American League won as they have ever since ’96. But from even before the game, there was a lot more going on than runs, hits and errors.

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