Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Old All-Star Game, She Ain't What She Used To Be

Call be an old dinosaur. I won't argue it for a second. Maybe I am getting old, because the memories that I had of days gone by grow more distant. And they grow more special.

Its the second Tuesday of July, same time but a different station; FOX instead of NBC. And none of the youthful faces I remember from way back when are young; some are hobbling along with canes, most are gray or balding, some are no longer with us.

But in the days of my childhood, some had a status like the offspring of the Gods of Olympus. There was the grace and flash of the great Willie Mays, the tragedy and the courage of Mickey Mantle, the quiet power of Harmon Killebrew, the cockeyed wisdom of Yogi Berra, the intimidation of Bob Gibson, the dignity of Roberto Clemente and Pirate teammate Willie Stargell, the wizardry at the hot corner of Brooks Robinson...and the "you worked your magic all too briefly" of the amazing Sandy Koufax.

There was Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Tony Oliva, Lou Brock...and the great Henry Aaron.

There was a different world, more innocent in some ways and more cruel and unfeeling in others. It was end of classic post World War II America, and the beginning of the the youth culture ushered in by Baby Boomers that is with us to this day.

And it was the beginning of the end of baseball's Golden Age. The decade of the 1960's began with expansion, and ended with expansion, and with divisional play. Free agency was not yet a reality- Curt Flood would take his case to the Supreme Court in the next decade.

And, sadly, it was the beginning of the cookie cutter multi-purpose Stadiums; St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta- Richie Hebner once said he didn't know what city he was in half the time, because the stadiums in the National League all looked the same.

Baseball was still bargain entertainment; the best seat in the house at most ballparks in the 1960's was 5-10 dollars, programs about a quarter, and hot dogs for 75 cents.

And its All-Star game was a special showcase....there was no inter league play, so you got only a few chances to see if Yaz could hit Drysdale or Carlton,or watch a National League Star play in person in Cleveland or Detroit. The window the game gave to the fans in the cities of the other league made it an experience, something that became a true media event in those days of the Big Three Networks and roof antennas.

The game we see in 2009 has changed, with the DH, free agency, inter-league play, retro-parks,and economics that would be impossible to imagine in the 1960's. The athletes are bigger, stronger, richer, and for the most part, more guarded and inaccessible.

We've got a home run derby, and we get the greats of Cardinal baseball on this night in St. Louis, with a truly great moment when 88 year old Stan Musial did a lap around the Busch Stadium, Mark III with the aid of a golf cart, to the applause of the fans and baseball's current stars. And Barack Obama, Chisox fan #1, threw out the first pitch to Albert Puljos.

Its a spectacle....its something to see.

But the game way back in the turbulent but glorious Sixties was something not to be missed. And that is a subtle difference.

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