In 1997, Major League Baseball adopted interleague play, a not-so-good idea that today has lost whatever pizzazz it once may have held. Some games like the Chicago Cubs versus cross-town White Sox have allure, but most AL-NL matchups are just another game. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig promised that interleague contests would begin as an experiment, but they’re now firmly entrenched as a lackluster part of the regular schedule.
Interleague baseball also has diminished the All-Star Game’s sheen. Fans awaited their once-in-a-season chance to witness head-to-head matchups between rival AL pitchers against NL batting stars. No more – interleague games ended that special treat.
Although no All-Star Game will be played in 2020, fans still reminisce about history’s greatest mid-summer classic achievements.
In 1934, New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell turned in among the most impressive All-Star Game efforts in history. On July 6 at New York’s Polo Grounds, and taking advice from his catcher Gabby “Old Tomato Face” Hartnett to rely on his baffling screwball, Hubbell consecutively struck out Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. The five superstars combined for a collective career .329 batting average that included 13,452 hits and 2,208 home runs. And each of the American League’s starting nine cruised into the Hall of Fame.
Fans who became baseball-enamored after MLB’s 1969 expansion will find Hubbell’s dinosaur-era feats hard to fathom. In 1933, in the first doubleheader game between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, Hubbell pitched an 18-inning, 1-0 complete game win. The Cardinal lineup included four Hall of Fame batsmen: Frankie Frisch, Ducky Medwick, Pepper Martin and Rogers Hornsby. Yet Hubbell struck out 12, and walked none. His 18 innings are roughly the equivalent to three games pitched by today’s starters, who average six innings per outing.
In the nightcap, the Giants’ side arming flamethrower Roy Parmelee bested the Cards’ Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean in another 1-0 complete game. Regularly scheduled doubleheaders, once a cornerstone of the baseball schedule, haven’t been played in decades. When owners caught on to the financial reality that they were giving away two games for the price of one, doubleheaders abruptly ended. Occasionally, rainouts will force teams to play day-night doubleheaders, but penurious owners demand two separate admissions.
In the mid-summer classic’s best offensive output category, the Boston Red Sox Ted Williams’ 1946 performance wins hands down. Williams, playing in his first All-Star Game after three years as a World War II Marine Corp fighter pilot, reached base in each of his five plate appearances. Williams’ final line: 4-for-4 with two HRs, 5 RBI, 1 B–and 4 Rs. One of Williams’ round-trippers was a blast into the right field bleachers off Pittsburgh Pirates’ eephus ball specialist “Rip” Sewell. Eephus, named from the Hebrew word efes, means “nothing,” an apt description of Sewell’s slow, high-arching pitch that he effectively relied on throughout his 13-year career.
In pre-game banter between Williams and Sewell, “The Kid” warned the blooper ball hurler not to throw him his eephus. But in the eighth inning of 12-0 AL wipe out, Sewell disregarded Williams’ challenge, and then watched his ill-advised pitch sail out of sight. Williams was the only batter in Sewell’s career to homer off his eephus. Years later, in reference to the 1946 All-Star Game, Williams recalled Sewell as “a tremendous pitcher.”
Of the three early All-Star Game central characters – Hubbell, Sewell and Williams – only Williams forever remains among the most revered players ever to don a uniform. Conversely, Hubbell and Sewell have unfairly faded from all except the most dedicated historians’ memory.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for Baseball Research and an Internet Baseball Writers Association Member. Contact him at [email protected]