Friday, July 10, 2009

A Midsummer Classic Night's Coma

MLB Network has only one real value-showing old baseball films and videos. The past month, it has been broadcasting years and years of packaged All-Star Game highlights during its many hours of non-prime time programming.

Like many fans, I'm almost as happy watching old sports on TV as live action, so I've been checking those films out in my many hours of non-prime time living. Many of the films bring back vivid memories of watching that particular All-Star Game in real time. Many of them, however, do not. And there's a point in the time line of my life where the memories simply drop away. On a graph, it would look like the stock market last October.

When the All-Star films showed games from the 1950s, '60s, and 70s, I splashed in a warm bath of nostalgia. After about the 1979 game (Dave Parker's throw from right field in the Kingdome), my recollections got a little spotty. I recall watching Fred Lynn's grand slam in 1983. There was the game at Wrigley Field in 1990-I watched that at my friend Charles Pierce's house and we laughed at John Kruk refusing to deal with Randy Johnson. I can remember all of the 1999 game at Fenway Park, the tribute to Ted Williams, Pedro's strikeouts, the whole thing. That doesn't count. I was there. I covered it. I'm not so far gone I don't remember events I attended-yet, anyway.

After that judge, it all goes blank. I know the American League has won every All-Star Game this decade except for that stupid tie, but how or why, no. A film of the 2004 Game was as much news to me as a cosmic preview of the 2009 Game would've been.

Summing it all up, the first All-Star Game I was old enough to remember seeing was the 1955 one. I was at my maternal grandparents house in Lansford, Pennsylvania. Stan Musial hit a homer in extra innings to win for the National League. THAT, I remember. The 2008 All-Star game. Under torture and sodium pentothal combined, I could not, this very second, tell you the final score. I must've watched it, the first three innings anyway, but as to what happened in them, there is no clue at this address.

There are two possibilities to explain this phenomenon. One is that I'm getting to that stage in life where the past is more vivid than the present, because it's a more pleasant place for the mind to reside. Readers may feel free to differ, but I don't think so. I remember most other major sports events I've seen on TV since I stopped being a sportswriter. If I can remember the 2006 PGA Championship, or games from the 2006 World Cup, why not the 2006 All-Star Game?

Possibility number two is that I can't remember All-Star Games because I've stopped caring about them in the first place. I think about them less and less during the first half of baseball seasons, and when I do, I generally think about how the All-Star Game pretty much sucks as both competition and entertainment. Then I think about how much I REALLY hate the home run contest the night before, a disgraceful parody of batting practice that like its twin brother the NBA Slam Dunk competition needs to be abolished for the good of sports civilization.

Devout seamheads like to argue that while the other sports' all-star games are terrible because they remove key elements of their sport (hitting in football, defense in hockey and basketball), baseball's unique nature makes its Game a splendid example of the sport at its best. Oh, sure. That's why Bud Selig came up with the World Series home field advantage to the winner dodge. Even Bud realized that as entertainment on its own merits, the All-Star Game couldn't keep the participants awake, let alone the audience.

Here's one sports thought I will attribute to age. The older I get, the more I think the Pro Bowl is the best all-star game of them all, because it's upfront about its pointlessness. Every NFL player thinks it's a great honor to be selected to play. Once honored, they immediately begin thinking of ways to get out of having to actually do so. The Pro Bowl is a sham, but it's a sham with integrity.


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