By Jared Max
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Twenty-eight years ago Tuesday, I was a pubescent 13-year-old at sleep-away camp, jumping out of my chubby skin, anticipating the evening’s one-of-a-kind summer event.
Not only did July 14, 1987, mark the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Oakland, it signified the only night at Camp Monroe when campers were allowed to watch television. The evening activity then — and, still today — is the MLB All-Star Game. That year, the excitement was built on Oakland A’s rookie Mark McGwire, who had hit 33 home runs before the break.
Like at an outdoor amphitheater, campers gathered around and sat along the semi-circle of cement steps that led down to our focal point. Two large televisions — likely, no larger than 19 or 25 inches — flanked the entrance door to the canteen. Not only were we permitted to watch TV, it was the only night when campers of all ages were granted access to the shop to buy pizza, ice cream, soda and other snacks.
As was the case then (and, still today for many), the highlight of the All-Star Game occurred prior to the first pitch.
Pre-game introductions were must-see TV; to witness our favorite baseball players emerge from the American League and National League dugouts, dressed uniformly beneath their individual team caps was a unique thrill. It meant something special to see players who regularly competed against each other crack smiles and exchange high-fives and butt-slaps as they greeted each other along the first and third base lines.
Naturally, as a Yankees fan I rooted for the AL, but I did not lose sleep because the NL. won the 1987 All-Star Game. It was truly an exhibition. It was baseball’s version of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon, “Super Friends.”
It was the “Battle of the Network Stars” and the “Laff-A-Lympics” rolled into one. It was Thanksgiving; so many familiar faces sharing a once-a-year evening together.
Ten years later, much luster of the All-Star Game was stripped, much novelty removed. A bi-product of the inception of Interleague play in 1997, baseball’s midsummer “visiting day” between American and National Leaguers lacked its previous family reunion-like status. Then, five years later, the 2002 All-Star Game destroyed baseball’s version of what soccer fans know as a “friendly.”
When managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenley ran out of players following the 11th inning, the game was ruled a 2-2 tie by then-commissioner Bud Selig. It was an embarrassment for Major League Baseball.
Selig then implemented the mantra “Now it Counts” to the 2003 All-Star Game — to award home field advantage in the World Series to whichever team was part of the league that outscored the other in a mid-July exhibition. I cannot recall a lamer executive decision made in my life as a sports fan. This one outranks a head-scratching rule once implemented by the NFL that called for home teams to be penalized five yards if its crowd was too loud.
Since 2003, nothing has changed regarding the All-Star Game/World Series home field advantage reward. It remains as illogical as ever.
If the standings today look the same at the end of September, the Yankees or Angels — currently tied for the lowest winning percentages among first place teams — could host Game 1 of this year’s World Series, regardless if their opponent were to be the Cardinals, baseball’s current most successful team.
This rule needs to be changed.
Twenty-eight years since I watched the NL score a 2-0, 13-inning victory over the AL, the All-Star Game is not the same attraction it used to be. To some, though, it remains a landmark summer night.
At Camp Monroe in upstate New York, a timeless tradition remains. While many of us will have the luxury to check our smartphones Tuesday night for scores and All-Star Game stats, some kids and teens away from home in Orange County will get to treasure the joy of the old times. At Stanley Felsinger’s summer camp in Monroe — where the mantra remains, “Only at …” — this game still counts.
Follow Jared on Twitter at @Jared_Max