The MLB All-Star Game has changed, but it still matters

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The 1983 All-Star Game made me a baseball fan. To this day, there are few games that remain as vividly a part of my imagination as that midsummer classic in old Comiskey Park.

At that time, I was probably still more of a hockey fan, and would spend the summer dreaming on Wayne Gretzky’s exploits that were yet to come. But long summers also afforded me the opportunity to watch a few baseball games per week. Growing up in the country, I could catch the Expos on one channel, the Blue Jays on the other, and occasionally, the Expos again en français on the third channel that we could pick up over the air.

It was around that time that my baseball allegiances began to shift. My earliest fandom tended towards the Pittsburgh Pirates, which was as much a tribute to their allure of the pillbox hat as any genuine appreciation that I had for the team. (Although I knew who Bill Madlock and Dave Parker were, and would attempt to emulate Tony Pena’s yoga-like crouch behind the plate.)

The Expos eventually captured more of my attention, by mere dint of being the team I was most likely to see play, and the 1983 team featured five All-Stars that year, including four in the starting lineup for the National League: Future Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and possibly my favourite Expo, Al Oliver. Pitcher Steve Rogers rounded out their contingent.

On the other side, Dave Stieb would take the ball as the starter for the American League squad. Even as an Expos fan, there was a thrill to seeing the lone Blue Jay in such a prominent role in that game.

The rest of the lineups were filled with players who remain luminous figures in the history of the game. Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Rod Carew, along with Dale Murphy and Ted Simmons, who are both Hall-worthy to me.

The biggest stars in baseball hit the field for the 90th edition of the MLB All-Star Game. Catch all the action on Sportsnet and SN Now on July 9 beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET/ 4:30 p.m. PT.

But aside from those stars and heroes of the Canadian clubs, and without devolving into too much of a game story, the names that immediately come to mind when I think of that game are Atlee Hammaker and Fred Lynn, joined on opposite ends of a historical moment in All-Star history.

In a messy third inning, Hammaker was roughed up hard by the AL stars, who were on an 11-game losing streak to that point. The coup-de-grace was Lynn’s grand slam, finishing off Hammaker’s lone All-Star appearance after two-thirds of an inning and seven runs allowed.

As we approach this year’s game, I think of that moment when I hear the incessant griping about baseball’s showcase exhibition. I remember how enthralled I was at the moment, and how I would come to know these players through that game.

The complaints against the All-Star Game are many: It isn’t truly a best-on-best game, because the rosters are bursting with marginal filler from bad teams. The best players get pulled too early, and the game gets decided not by the great, but by the very good or very lucky.

And the game was seemingly tarnished profoundly by the tie in Milwaukee in 2002, which precipitated the "it counts" movement that saw the winner of the exhibition gain home field advantage in the World Series — an outrage, apparently, though at the time, home field was simply alternating annually between the two leagues.

Certainly, the All-Star Game now isn’t what it was in 1983. If the game now feels decidedly uncool, it is in large part because of how desperately it attempts to be cool. The player introductions, which are always a highlight of the game, are now taken over by corporate sponsorship and musical guests, and the national play-by-play voice now supplanting the hometown PA announcer.

There is too much extraneous pageantry for a game that needs little more than the players on the field and maybe a little added bunting — the decorative kind, not the unstrategic offensive type.

But for any of the faults of the All-Star Game, I still imagine a kid staying up late on a summer night, watching Javy Baez, Cody Bellinger, Alex Bregman and Mike Trout. I imagine how happy the young Mariners fan will be to see Daniel Vogelbach tip his cap during the intros. Or how the Blue Jays fan will be thrilled to see Marcus Stroman, when he is introduced at the end of the list of reserves, even if he doesn’t pitch.

And when the game starts, there is no half-hearted play on the field. These are still the top pitchers facing off against the top hitters, backed by some of the best fielders in the game.

The All-Star Game is by no means perfect. It’s not the greatest possible exhibition of baseball. If you are so inclined, it is a meaningless game. But it’s a moment, and an opportunity to celebrate the fun of the game.

And for some kid, or someone who is just beginning to appreciate the game, it might be the moment that they remember forever.

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