Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Talk About Trends ! The All-Star Game

The "Junior Circuit" got off to a fast start, with three straight All-Star wins (1933 to '35) and won twelve of the first sixteen mid-summer classics from 1934 to 1949. (No game was played in 1945.) The '37 All-Stars featured a truly remarkable lineup of future Hall of Famers. Pictured at left are Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. Even super confident NL starter Dizzy Dean had to be a little nervous.

But between 1950 and 1987 the senior circuit's record was 33-8 – an astounding .805. It's generally postulated that the National League's dominance was due to its earlier welcoming of black and Latin American players. It's hard to argue with that. The AL had few stars to match Mays, Aaron, Banks, Clemente, Robinson, McCovey et al. When the AL finally won a game in 1957 it was due to ballot boxing stuffing in Cincinnati, which allowed the Redlegs to win seven of the nine starting positions! The outraged commissioner moved two Reds out of the lineup – and took voting away from the fans. But the NL lineup still included Roy McMillan and Ed Bailey.

In '58 things returned to normal – even though it was the first All-Star game without an extra base hit. The lightweight American League's only stars were Jackie Jensen and Mickey Mantle. Their lineup included Bob Cerv, Gus Triandos, and Frank Malzone! And whom did they face? Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and a fair double play combination of Bill Mazeroski and Ernie Banks!

Many fans may not know that two all-star games were played each summer from 1959 to 1962.
Among them was the first tie, in the second of the two 1961 games, when a ninth inning downpour ended the game in a 1-1 tie.

But I would argue that it was not just the black stars in their lineups that allowed the NL to dominate in the 50s and 60s. It was their pitching too. They had Koufax, Marichal, Spahn, Burdette, Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Fernando Valenzuela, and Dwight Goodin to name a few.

But everything changed in '88. After years of futility (seven straight losses) the AL actually won a game. How? It was A's catcher Terry Steinbach, who hit a home run and launched another drive that fell ten feet short of being a grand slam. It ended up as a sac fly that gave the AL a 2-1 victory. Stunned by their success, the AL racked off five straight more.

From 1988 to 2009 the AL went 18 and 3, an incredible .857 record. Symbolic of the AL's success during this remarkable stretch was the '92 Classic. After four straight losses the now underdog NLers looked for revenge. But the first seven AL hitters stroked singles and built a 4-0 lead in the first. Then Ruben Sierra capped a 4-run sixth with a two-run homer. Ken Griffey Jr. went 3-for-3 and the AL coasted to a 13-6 win. (The AL 'slumped' to a 9-3 walkover the next year.)

Between '92 and '94 the unfortunate NL hurlers were facing lineups with simply no weaknesses. The AL had Kirby Puckett, Gary Carter, Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Ruben Sierra, Mark McGwire, Jose Conseco, and Frank Thomas. The 'weak' part of their lineup featured Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken Jr., and Wade Boggs!

The only relief came in '96 – in a game with no singles – when the AL also had no homers and lost 6-0. But they won the next 12 straight, though four in a row (2006 to '09) were by one run and there was the tie in 2002. The 2004 game in Houston was the lone blowout. Much-hyped hometown hero Roger Clemens (then with the Astros) got roughed up in the first.

The NL is on a roll now – with one straight win. Can they start another awesome run? It's 2-1 for the AL in amazing All-Star streaks.

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