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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 15, 2013: Is it Time to Change the All Star Game?

 Despite making his major league debut on June 3rd and only playing in 37 games, 23-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig received a huge surge of support to make this year’s National League All Star team. The outfielder has done his best Roy Hobbs impression by hitting a blistering .392 with eight home runs and 19 RBI. While he made it to the final cut, he won’t be playing in the mid-summer classic on July 16th at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, as Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman grabbed the final roster spot.

An All Star nod for Puig would have been unprecedented but may have been exactly what baseball needs. As opposed to suffering through the mandatory representative from every team, MLB should move to a model that puts the most exciting players on the field. In this age of technology, fans from around the world are no longer relegated to primarily watching their hometown teams, so making sure every franchise has at least one player in the game is no longer as necessary.

The All Star game, which has rapidly lost appeal (This time it counts, anyone?), could use a shot of adrenaline administered squarely in a buttock. Showcasing the best up-and-coming stars like Puig would be a great way to do that. If MLB added one roster spot per squad for a top rookie or young player, they could introduce a new dynamic while not entirely blowing up the old system.

Although baseball embraces tradition with giant bear hugs, the truth is the game is frequently changing. The All Star game isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be and needs to be fixed. If baseball can accomplish that while marketing its youngest best and brightest, it could be a win-win for everyone.

***The last All Star game hosted by the New York Mets was all the way back in 1964. It was a classic, as Philadelphia Phillies outfield Johnny Callison won the game for the National League with a walk-off home run against giant Boston Red Sox closer Dick Radatz.’s Steve Wulf recently did a wonderful profile on that game and the life and career of Callison, who was once billed as the next Mickey Mantle. Callison may not have reached such lofty expectations, but he did have an excellent 16-year major league career. He was able to overcome humble beginnings and to live a very successful life that stretched well beyond what he accomplished on the baseball diamond.

***Willie Mays is often mentioned as the best all-around player to ever set foot on a baseball diamond. His eclectic skills may have only been surpassed by the fictional feats of Sidd Finch, a lanky pitcher who was the literary creation of author George Plimpton. This picture shows Mays and Plimpton sitting side-by-side, in full uniform (Plimpton loved playing and writing about sports), no doubt discussing the inner workings of the game which they each had their own mastery of.

***Legendary comedian Don Rickles, who is also a big fan of baseball and the Dodgers, claims former Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda once let him make a pitching change during a game. SB Nation’s Rob Neyer speculates in an article that if that actually happened, it would have been during the 1977 season, when the Dodgers ran away with their division.

Rickles indicated he was in uniform and actually removed a pitcher from the game. Neyer can find no actual evidence that this ever happened, but also can’t conclusively say it didn’t. Either way, it’s a great story.

***There’s no historical significance to this next bit unless you count unbridled laughter that is sure to last for generations. During a Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels game several years ago at Fenway Park, a fan kerfuffle broke out in the third base stands after a foul ball interference. The imbroglio that followed included a perfectly good piece of pizza being launched through the air and on to the shoulder of the offending fan. The slice slinger was escorted from the game but not before his actions caused Red Sox announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy to erupt into convulsive giggles.  

***Bobby Cox won 2,504 games during a 29-year major league managerial career spent primarily with the Atlanta Braves. With 15 division titles and five pennants to his name, he will be a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame.’s Terence Moore wrote about how the 72-year-old Cox may have retired following the 2010 season but has not distanced himself from the game. He still keeps track at home from his recliner, micromanaging without having to experience the grind from the dugout.

***Legendary Babe Ruth played his first major league game 99 years ago on July 11, 1914 for the Red Sox. To commemorate the event,’s Cliff Corcoran came up with 99 cool facts about the Bambino. These include how he was groomed to become a shirt maker before finding a career in baseball, and the fact that he won just a single MVP award during his Hall-of-Fame career. Part of what made him so popular while he played and now in death is how interesting his career and life were compared to the average player.

***And now, your moment of Zen. It may a little bit past Independence Day but never too late to celebrate a blatant act of patriotism. On April 25, 1976 at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday saved an American flag from being lit on fire by a couple of pyromaniacal protesters. Just as the banner was doused with lighter fluid and about to go up in flames, Monday sprinted  in from his position to snatch the symbol of America safely off the field just in the nick of time. 

A horrendous outfielder, the moment was arguably the greatest defensive play of his career.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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