"This Time It Counts!"
If you want someone to blame for the much-maligned All-Star Game catchphrase, you can probably find them in the Major League Baseball marketing department. If you're looking for someone to blame for what it represents -- the winning league getting home-field advantage in the World Series -- the culprits are many.
The decision to change the stakes was commissioner Bud Selig's. But Bob Brenly, Torii Hunter, Cito Gaston and Orioles fans all played their parts.
The last time the All-Star result didn't "count" was 2002, when baseball staged perhaps its most ignominious All-Star Game, which will always be remembered simply as "The Tie."
The game was supposed to be a shining moment for Selig, with the baseball world coming to his baseball-irrelevant hometown of Milwaukee and its sparkling Miller Park. But the event ended in chaos and confusion, with Selig looking like a bumbling stooge.
It was perhaps an ominous sign when it began to rain. Hard. The Miller Park roof started leaking, pouring water on some of the most expensive sections of seats. The game itself began well, and even produced a memorable highlight in the bottom of the first, when Hunter leaped to snare what would have been a home run by Barry Bonds. As the teams changed sides at the end of the inning, Bonds playfully picked up Hunter and threw him over his shoulder.
If Hunter hadn't caught that ball, it might have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
AL manager Joe Torre and NL manager Bob Brenly did what All-Star managers do, rotating players into the game at a steady clip. It wasn't always that way; managers used to manage the game as they would a normal game, with some liberal substitutions late in the game as big-name players got token appearances.
The turning point came in the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards. Blue Jays manager Gaston, who had already drawn criticism for loading the AL team with a whopping seven Toronto players, didn't use Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina in the game. The crowd booed him lustily -- not only that night but in future visits to Camden.
"Who needs the grief?" was the approach of future All-Star skippers, who started planning the game so that as many players as possible were used. Brenly was simply following what had become customary when he emptied his bench and his bullpen. That became a problem when the game went into the 10th inning, and then the 11th.
Phillies pitcher Vicente Padilla, whom the Phillies had sent word they preferred not to pitch at all, threw the final two innings for the NL and was the last man standing. The AL was down to Freddy Garcia.
And one of the remaining pitchers might have been drunk. ESPN's Peter Gammons dropped an item into a blog years later suggesting that the reason the game was halted was that "a pitcher on one of the two teams was imbibing in the clubhouse and was not in condition to pitch." The player has never been identified and the allegation never publicly substantiated, but the rumor has lived on.
Whether a tipsy pitcher was an issue or not, Selig felt that he needed to take action (even though the All-Star Game had gone into extra innings nine previous times). The commissioner was shown on TV looking consternated, conferring with the umpires and managers. During the top of the 11th, an announcement was made in the pressbox, and later over the public address system: If nobody scores in this inning, the game will be declared a tie.
Garcia struck out Benito Santiago with a runner on second to end the game tied at 7. The crowd erupted with a chant of "Let them play! Let them play!"
Players hurried off the field (no MVP was named) and Selig gave a quick news conference.
"The decision was made because there were no players left, no pitchers left," Selig said. "This is not the ending I had hoped for. I was in a no-win situation."
It was a huge public relations blow for Selig and for MLB, which at the time was dealing with steroid reports and appeared headed for a strike. Selig was savaged in the media.
"I just remember being in the clubhouse, the game is called, and we're like in shock," Hunter said in 2007. "We're saying to each other, 'I can't believe this happened.' I mean, nothing like that had ever happened to any of us before, at least not since high school days.
"I just thought it was the wrong thing to do."The next day, Selig called it a "horribly painful and heartbreaking lesson" and vowed that it would never happen again. To that end, he expanded the rosters by two, cautioned future managers that it would be their fault if they ran out of players, and declared that in the future the winning league would get home-field advantage in the World Series.
The results have been generally positive. The higher stakes do add some import and incentive to the exhibition (though it hasn't been enough to motivate the NL, which hasn't won an All-Star Game since 1996). And while people argue that it's silly for a play by the token All-Star for the Pirates to be able to decide the fate of the World Series, it's really no sillier than the alternating system in place before.
But no matter what good might have come out of it, "The Tie" was certainly not one of baseball's proudest moments.
-- David Andriesen
More All-Star memories -- 1949: Breaking the color barrier; 1941: Teddy Ballagame's walk-off homer
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