The Hot Corner: Remembering when the All-Star Game was ‘now’; It’s been a while

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Our idle-handed friends at ESPN are devoting a lengthy, nightly segment to an imaginary tournament dubbed “Who’s Now?”

Best as I can identify, this is a cryptic way of asking who is the most powerful personality in sports. It’s also a way of perpetuating the myth that Amanda Beard, David Beckham, Chuck Liddell and Serena Williams have as much significance, combined, as the 128th biggest star in the National Football League.

Funny. Not many summers ago, to ask such a ridiculous question in July would have been the equivalent of slapping a “kick me” sign on your own backside. There was no doubt about Who, or What, was now.

It’s the All-Star Game, stupid.

True, we didn’t have the, um, benefit of watching a four-month-old soccer game at any hour of the night, or the freedom to immerse ourselves in the pageantry of someone else’s high-stakes poker game.

Baseball was now, it, dope, all that, da bomb, the shiznit, off the hook, add whatever irritating word your teenage neighbors use to describe full-contact skateboarding here.

Between watching either the Celtics or Lakers quaff champagne during finals week at school and seeing the Patriots get beaten on a last-minute touchdown pass by Art Schlichter on Labor Day weekend, the midsummer classic was quite literally all there was to celebrate.

If you’re a baseball lifer, you’re probably ashamed to admit that you were even a captive audience for that sham of an all-star game at the end of the 1981 strike. Was there a more appropriate setting for that obligatory, suck-up exercise than Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, by the way?

It mattered. Unlike football (3-4 alignment required, blitzing banned, perspiration optional) and basketball (playing tougher defense than the Washington Generals is punishable by a technical foul), baseball’s elite played a game that had historical significance beyond the next morning’s scores page. Performance on baseball’s greatest in-season stage was actually a consideration in a player’s Hall of Fame credentials.

Today, the game is a soulless billboard. The two rosters are larger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, even before the obligatory, corporate-sponsored online balloting to add another player to the team.

And the politics of juggling that bench are worse than any Little League you’ve ever known. God help Tony LaRussa or Jim Leyland if they don’t play everyone. Let the record show it’s that kind of thinking that gave us the Great Catastrophic Tie of 2002.

Don’t be surprised in the next year or two if the commissioner bends the rules to allow an 18-man batting order. Hey, chicks dig the long ball.

All of which nicely explains why Shaun White is more “now” than Ryan Howard. And why the world could end any minute.

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