Fans with tickets to the 2006 MLB All-Star Game at Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park and across the TV viewing audience were treated to pitching power and finesse, gutsy base-stealing, and ultimately to the drama of a batter down to his very last strike getting the hit that turns things around. That was Mike Young of the Texas Rangers, whose 2-run triple put the American League ahead 3-2, which proved to be the final score. That swing of the bat earned Young the MVP honors and gave the American League team home-field advantage once again for the 2006 MLB World Series.
As North American all-star spectacles go, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is the prototype for all the others. Unlike the NFL's Pro Bowl, which wandered aimlessly and was almost discontinued until it landed in Honolulu, baseball's version of showing off has been a midsummer hit since its inception in Chicago's Comiskey Park in 1933. And unlike the NBA and NHL games, baseball's All-Star Game has not been cancelled because of labor disputes. (It was not held in 1945 because of World War II travel restrictions.)
The concept of an all-star game owes itself to Arch Ward, a Chicago Tribune sports editor, who wanted baseball to participate in the 'Century of Progress' Expo being held in the summer of 1933 in Chicago. He nagged enough to get the leagues to set up a vote for the all-stars, and managers and fans chose a good gathering of the nation's hottest players, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Frankie Frisch among them. Though Babe Ruth was in the twilight of his career, he hit the first All-Star home run. The game was an economic success; Comiskey Park sold more than 49,000 tickets. (If you have one of these tickets now, you can cash it in for a whole lot more than it cost your grandfather.)
Over the years, the All-Star Game (dubbed the Midsummer Classic) has undergone more tinkering than any other aspect of Major League Baseball. The voting for All-Star honors has swung between managers and fans: for the first two games, managers and fans selected the players. For the next twelve years, the managers had the sole responsibility for stocking the team. 1947-1957 had the fans choosing the starters, with the managers choosing the pitchers and filling out the roster. After allegations that Cincinnati fans had stuffed ballot boxes in 1957, the fans were removed from the decisions again from 1958-1969, allowing coaches and players a voice. From 1970 on, the fans have had the right to choose starters again.
A short-lived experiment involved the scheduling of two All-Star Games per year (1959-1962). Rather than a double-header, the games required two different Al-Star breaks. Especially once the regular-season schedule expanded to 162 games from 154, this saturation of the market showed its lack of wisdom. 1962 was also the first year that the first Most Valuable Players were chosen: Maury Wills (Los Angeles Dodgers) in the first game, and Leon Wagner (Los Angeles Angels) in the second.
The 2002 All-Star Game brought controversy into the process, when the managers used up their pitchers to gratify the ticket holders but wound up angering the crowd when the game went into extra innings and had to be called off as a tie after 11 innings. To encourage managers and fans to think of the All-Star Game as a 'real' game, Commissioner Bud Selig proposed that, beginning in 2003, home-field advantage for the World Series be earned by winning the All-Star Game.
As in most pro sports, baseball's All-Star Game rotates among the different cities with teams. In baseball, it also alternates between leagues. With the frenzy of building that has led to new baseball parks in Philadelphia, Houston and Detroit, among other cities, Major League Baseball has chosen to show off these new parks as venues for the All-Star Game. When you buy your tickets for the Midsummer Classic, you can expect to be sitting in brand-new seats for the next several years.
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