The Mid-Summer Classic

Last night was baseball’s All-Star Game, when the best players from the National League (“the Senior Circuit,” founded 1876) play the best players from the American League (“the Junior Circuit,” having claimed major league status in 1901).

I’m a Red Sox fan, so I root for the American League. And the AL is on a roll. They haven’t lost this game since the mid-’90s. (Once when we lived in England in the early ’70s, some moron on the BBC described the American League as “the second division” based on what was then an ongoing NL All-Star streak. It was several hours before I was allowed out to the pub.)

I’ve always loved this game. It marks the half-way point of the season, so many young players have had their chance to break out, and merely good veterans have embarked on their career year. It brings together players who seldom have a chance to play with or against each other. (This was much more true in my youth, when there were no inter-league games, and many fewer inter-league trades.) And it has a rich history of notable events involving famous players. (When I was a boy, it was also the day my mother and I picked the currents in the garden—while listening to what was in those days a day game.)

In the early years of the 1930s, and for perhaps 25 years afterward, both leagues took this game seriously. Then gradually, it began to slide toward desuetude as it became all too obvious that the players were only going through the motions. I stopped paying much attention. Then, a few years ago, Major League Baseball made a brilliant move. (I can’t tell you how odd it is to write that sentence.) The league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series. This is a big deal, and all of a sudden, the players began to take the game seriously again.

As I’ve written here before, I no longer pay daily attention to baseball, and I didn’t even know the names of a lot of the truly wonderful players on exhibition last night. It didn’t matter. I enjoyed watching, regardless (even the poor kid who made three errors and struck out three times…he’ll be back). And I got my money’s worth. Instead of the usual nine, the game went 15 exciting innings. And the American League won again, 4-3. The National League is so second division.

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