LOS ANGELES — Baseball’s All-Star Game was a sweet treat, a refreshingly icy blast on a hot July afternoon, a nod to the game’s tradition that featured enough new wrinkles and fresh personalities to make it entertaining and help keep the All-Star format vibrant for years to come.
This year’s version might even have provided a sneak peek of a potential Dodgers-New York Yankees World Series matchup in October. How sweet would it be to see Clayton Kershaw strike out Aaron Judge again, and for Tony Gonsolin to get another chance against Tujunga native Giancarlo Stanton after the Yankees outfielder tagged him for a two-run home run in the fourth inning on Tuesday?
The game’s result — a 3-2 victory for the American League over the National League — will quickly fade from memory. But it was a fun break from the tension of division and wild-card races, a few happy hours for fans to forget about injuries and speculation about the Aug. 2 trade deadline and simply enjoy watching the sport’s best players while a torrid day faded into a gentle Tuesday twilight against the picturesque backdrop of Dodger Stadium.
Honoring Rachel Robinson, widow of Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, was classy and meaningful and kept alive a link to the team’s great history. Naming future Hall of Fame inductees Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols to the AL and NL teams, respectively, struck the right note of respect among fans and players. The players were excited, involved. So were the fans.
“There was a lot of energy in the dugout. I was kind of surprised how the guys were into it,” National League manager Brian Snitker said. “The energy coming out of the dugout was good all night. It was fun. All the players made it fun for all of us with their energy and into the game and excited about playing, and we had a lot of first-time All-Stars.
“You know, the fact that we got to watch Albert get an at-bat and be with him the whole last couple of days was cool.”
Putting a camera on home plate umpire Bill Miller and equipping Toronto pitcher Alek Manoah and New York Yankees catcher Jose Trevino with microphones were terrific uses of technology. Manoah managed to strike out the side in the second inning while chatting with Fox announcers Joe Davis and John Smoltz.
Trevino said aloud, “I can’t believe I’m an All-Star, man,” before he reached base and continued the conversation, at one point asking the first-base coach if he was supposed to run with two outs. Insights from players humanize them and keep fans engaged.
The game was a reminder, too, that even in a cynical world it’s worthwhile to dream big because sometimes those dreams come true.
Stanton, who started in left field and was voted the game’s most valuable player, was an All-CIF honoree in football, baseball and basketball at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High. As a kid he’d often make the trip to Dodger Stadium to watch batting practice, chasing foul balls and begging whoever was playing left field to throw a ball to him. “I’m like 30 minutes with no traffic, but we all know L.A. That’s two hours,” he said of the distance to his childhood home.
His favorites were Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo. But he liked to watch the “big bops,” his name for Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. “Even for two at-bats, just try to drive down here, get a ticket off the street and come try to see what they can do in two at-bats,” Stanton said.
“All of that wraps around in full circle when I’m out there.”
AL manager Dusty Baker’s dream of playing in an All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium was long delayed but not denied. He was having a strong season when the game was held here in 1980 but six other Dodgers were selected ahead of him. The hurt he carried all those years ached a little less Tuesday.
“Nothing makes up for playing,” he said, “but I tell you, it was fun sitting in the dugout and seeing the guys, how together they were, especially when everybody knew that we were getting together for a couple of days as a team, and now we go our own direction.”
There’s no perfect format for All-Star games, and what used to be a strong tradition has faded in relevance across professional sports.
The Pro Bowl, traditionally held the week before the Super Bowl, reportedly might vanish altogether, a victim of repeated pullouts by star players and format staleness. Defense is little more than a rumor in the NBA’s All-Star competition: Last season’s game featured Team LeBron earning a 163-160 victory over Team Durant. NHL All-Star contests long ago became no-hitters, and removing the physicality also removed much of the game’s appeal. The NHL most recently created a division-based format that features teams facing off in a three-on-three mini tournament and playing for a $1 million prize. That increased the intensity but it’s still not ideal. It’s kind of hockey but kind of not.
Major League Baseball did a lot of things right Tuesday. It also got lucky because of a superb location, the emergence of new personalities, and the promise of a repeat of those Dodgers-Yankees matchups a few months from now, when more than league pride will be at stake.
“On paper, it’s lined up that way for a few years, so now both sides need to take care of business and get it done,” Stanton said.
The Dodgers and Yankees have their assignments: Get it done. So does Major League Baseball: Keep the All-Star Game fun and interesting next year, and beyond.