Baseball all-star games and I go back a long way. One of them was my first date…but don’t tell my wife. I was 11. For whatever reason, a neighbourhood girl of the same age agreed to accompany me (and my chaperoning uncle) to a game so thrilling that the only scoring was a solo home run off the bat of a light-hitting 19-year-old from Cuba, Miguel de la Hoz. That’s about all I remember of the game.
The other two all-star games I saw were decidedly more memorable: major-league in stature, and forerunners of the 92nd All-Star Game set for next week in Los Angeles. The first was in Kansas City and the second in Montreal — the first such game played outside the U.S.
There was nothing at stake except pride, adulation and a few extra bucks in those days, and while the modern games are still primarily to showcase the stars, baseball gets it right. The All-Star Game is worth something. The winning “league” gets home-field advantage in the World Series. Now many people think that’s silly but for at least some All-Stars (and in July they don’t know who), the result could be valuable.
So unlike shootouts in hockey and indifference in football, baseball’s All-Star Game remains relevant.
Upon reflection that wasn’t my first-hand impression in either Kansas City or Montreal. In KC, it was a love-in. For example, Richie Allen was there as the reigning American League MVP but was hurt and didn’t play. Gene Mauch, the Expos manager, was there but didn’t manage…he was a coach. In their days together in Philadelphia, Allen and Mauch had a much-publicized adversarial relationship, and there they were right before my eyes, almost embracing.
It was a fun game without purpose, won 7-1 by the National League, and the hero was Bobby Bonds, who went 2-for-2 with a home run, double and two RBIs. Bonds was the father of future home-run king Barry, whose godfather is Willie Mays, who played his 24th and last All-Star Game that night. A love-in, indeed.
Nine years later, the “mid-season classic” in Montreal was a hometown celebration. Otherwise, it also meant little. Four Expos were in the starting line-up. Three became Hall of Famers: Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. The fourth, Steve Rogers, was the starting and winning pitcher (starters traditionally pitched three innings, as Rogers did). Dawson played the whole game, Carter played most of it and a fifth Expo, Al Oliver, went 2-for-2. The Nationals won again, 4-1.
That game draw 59,057 fans, and 40 years later it’s still the 10th-largest attendance ever (in 1991, Toronto’s out-of-the-USA game attracted 52,383). The “ceremonial first pitch” at Olympic Stadium was in the hands of 13 former players, including original Expo Claude Raymond. There were 19 future Hall of Famers playing that night and when I look back on 35 years of major-league baseball in Montreal, it just may have been the biggest highlight of all.