Monday, May 12, 2014

An Annual Tradition Tarnished--The Dreaded All-Star Tie of 2002

The 2002 All-Star Game began and ended on a sour note. While allegations of steroid abuse were running rampant within the sport, players were threatening to strike over the issue of revenue sharing. Making the setting even bleaker, baseball lost one of its all time greats on July 5 as Ted Williams passed away at the age of eight-three.

The game was played at Milwaukee for the first time since 1975. More than 41,000 fans witnessed a spectacular opening ceremony commemorating thirty of the game's most iconic moments. The greatest living ballplayers, including Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays rubbed elbows with numerous future Hall of Famers such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Randy Johnson. 

The game itself featured timely hitting and stellar defensive play. With two outs in the first, Barry Bonds hit a deep smash to right-center field. Torii Hunter, among baseball's premier glove men, reached high over the wall to haul it back in. As the teams were changing sides, Bonds jokingly lifted the Twins' ball hawk off the ground and threw him over his shoulder.

The game see-sawed back and forth. In the seventh, a  2-out, 2-run single by Astros' outfielder Lance Berkman gave the National League a 7-6 lead. The American League answered in the top of the eighth as Indians' shortstop Omar Vizquel (installed at second base to compensate for the five shortstops the AL was carrying on its roster) delivered an RBI triple off of Giants' closer Robb Nen. The game was well on its way to becoming a classic.

...And then the trouble began.

Through ten frames, the score was still tied. AL skipper Joe Torre and his NL counterpart Bob Brenly had conspired to send a total of nineteen pitchers to the mound. Upon finishing the tenth, Phillies' right-hander Vicente Padilla told Brenly he couldn't work more than one more inning. Unfortunately, there was no one else to turn to. Sensing disaster, Brenly and Torre (who was also down to his last hurler) met with officials to devise a solution. It was decided that the game would be called after the eleventh if it remained deadlocked.

The National League almost broke through in the bottom of that frame, but Giants' catcher Benito Santiago struck out, stranding Mike Lowell of the Marlins at second. Fans littered the field with trash and chanted: "Refund! Refund!" Brenly's bench coach, Bob Melvin, commented to members of the pres: "Someone should have gone out there and told Freddy [Garcia] to lay one in there for Santiago. We were all praying that he would get a hit."

 Commissioner Bud Selig apologized to fans. "Nobody wanted to play more than I did," he told reporters. "But I have to balance the concerns and hopes of the fans against the welfare of the players and the game...This is why they have a commissioner, because somebody has to make those decisions."

Determined to prevent future incidents, Selig expanded the rosters by two players apiece. Adding incentive, he declared that the winning squad would gain home field advantage in the World Series. The convention has persisted into the current season despite opposition from various sources. 

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