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A column in the Philadelphia Daily News today lamented how 15 of the players picked for tonight’s All-Star game, including Derek Jeter, the five-hit-gamer and 3000-hit-clubber and sudden It Boy of Summer, won’t show up in Arizona for the event.
On paper, the All-Star Game means a lot more now than it used to; since 2003, the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. But, as the glut of no-shows shows, the All-Star Game ain’t played on paper.
Back when it didn’t mean anything on paper, the All Star Game meant a lot to the game of baseball. Here’s one example, from 1941, which I came across while looking back at the bygone tradition of Fourth of July doubleheaders.
According to a story by Shirley Povich of the Washington Post printed in July 1941, or just before the All-Star break that year, Washington Senators Manager Bucky Harris “changed his pitching plans” so that a Nats player would be prepared for the biggest single game of the year.
Senators pitching ace Sid Hudson was scheduled to start a game in Boston in Washington’s last series before the All-Star Game.
But Harris kept Hudson off the mound that day, and all but bragged to the press that the scratch was necessary so that he could keep a promise to Del Baker, then manager of the reigning American League champs the Detroit Tigers and therefore skippering the AL squad in that year’s interleague showcase.
Seems Harris told his rival’s manager that he’d have Hudson ready to start the big game if necessary.
“I promised Del Baker that I’d have Hudson rested and fresh for him on Tuesday against the National League,” Harris told Povich, “and I’m not going back on my word.”
Can you imagine what would happen to a manager nowadays who made a move in the best interests of baseball but not his own team?
As it was, Baker started Bob Feller, who gave up just one hit and struck out four over three innings, the maximum stay for a pitcher in an All-Star game. Hudson got in the game in the seventh inning, but was yanked after giving up two runs on three hits and a walk.
The AL prevailed anyway, 7-5, thanks to a Ted Williams’ three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
The clip of Williams’ game-winner, showing the 22-year-old Williams, about a year before he and Feller took a sabbatical from the American Pastime and went off to war, clapping and skipping around the bases like a little boy, is enough to make anybody love baseball.
Nowadays, it would be called a walk-off three-run home run. But in 1941, it was just a home run.
Everything used to be better, see?