Every year at this point on the baseball calendar, people wonder why the All-Star Game is still a thing. There is always an argument that you could still name All-Star teams for both leagues, but you don’t have to actually play the game. The argument is understandable, even if I certainly don’t agree with it. The players are at an injury risk for a game that doesn’t count (a small one, but one that does exist). The players who are chosen for the team also don’t get the same rest as other players around the league. I’m sure there are a good number of players who would like the opportunity for a four-game break without obligations in the middle of the year.
I don’t care about all that, though. I love the All-Star Game and have my entire life. Since I really started watching baseball I have made a point to make sure I am free for the Monday and Tuesday of All-Star week, because I want to watch the festivities. And really, if anyone should know the value of All-Star week and the game in particular, it should be Boston fans.
It’s sort of crazy to think about, but it’s been 20 years since Boston hosted their last All-Star Game, and there’s been a lot of talk about that game in this milestone anniversary. Really, there’s a lot of talk about that game every year because it was such an iconic event. The All-Star Game and the events surrounding it are built to be a showcase for the game, and there’s perhaps never been a better showcase than the one we saw two decades ago.
It started on that Monday with the Home Run Derby. That Derby included Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Nomar Garciaparra and Jeremy Burnitz. I include Burnitz here because he made the finals, which I definitely don’t remember. Griffey and McGwire were the memorable guys from that one, with the latter putting on an absolute show and the former winning his record third Derby. Seeing Griffey’s legendary sweet swing and his iconic backwards hat on one side and McGwire sending moonshots over the Monster was legitimately breathtaking.
Perhaps the most memorable part of that game was what happened right before, after the players were introduced. Ted Williams came out onto the field, and the look of pure joy and awe from all of these current superstars meeting an all-time legend were unforgettable. I mean, there aren’t a lot of players in history that can create this kind of mob. That specific moment would be tough to replicate every year because, well, there just aren’t that many Ted Williamses. It’s a testament to how unique these big events can be.
Then, there was the game itself. I mean, looking back at those rosters are just crazy with the amount of talent there. Griffey. Garciaparra. McGwire. Sosa. Ripken. Manny. Thome. Mariano. Gwynn. Randy Johnson. Oh, and some guy named Pedro Martinez. Pedro’s performance in that game is one that will never be forgotten and is a Youtube video I watch at least a few times a year. The best pitcher of all-time (don’t @ me) at his absolute peak mowing down the best hitters in the game? That’s something you can only get in an All-Star Game. It is also one of the most memorable moments in the sport in the last quarter-century, and it happened in a game that didn’t count.
Now, holding every All-Star Game to the 1999 standard is wildly unfair. There’s a reason it’s one of the most discussed and memorable of all time. That said, before 1999 there was a gold standard that got topped. Something is always the best until it’s not, and it only takes one year for that to happen.
To make things more personal, the 1999 All-Star Game is part of the reason I became obsessive over this league. I was always going to be a baseball fan to some extent as sports are just in my blood, but watching that Derby and the reaction to Williams and Pedro going full superhero was breathtaking as an eight-year-old. It’s not all that hard to envision, 20 years from now, someone looking back at their eight-year-old self sitting in awe at a game that featured Mike Trout and Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuña and Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger and Max Scherzer as well as a derby that featured Vladimir Guerrero Jr. putting on an unforgettable show. None of this is to say you have to like the All-Star Game. An important realization in life is that not everything is for everyone, and that’s okay. But there is a place for this event. Twenty years ago it helped fanaticize a generation. There’s no reason that can’t happen again.