All-Star Game not all-sought Some cities prefer to pass on classic

July 10, 1991|By Richard Rothschild | Richard Rothschild,Chicago Tribune

Conventional wisdom says that baseball's All-Star Game is a midsummer festival that any city would love to stage.

For two days the sport's best players are on one field, attracting fan and media attention from around the nation. The game, which is often forgettable, is usually secondary to the financial and publicity benefits that fall to the host city.

Toronto, which played host to its first All-Star Game last night at SkyDome, can expect to bask in 48 hours of largely complimentary reports as overhead shots of the stadium with its retractable dome, the city's skyline and the Lake Ontario waterfront flood North America's TV screens.

But the All-Star Game is not for all cities. A look at the list of host franchises since the late 1960s excludes some of the best baseball communities in the nation.

St. Louis, a vintage baseball town, hasn't had the All-Star Game since 1966 when Busch Memorial Stadium was brand new, the field still had grass and Harry Caray was the Cardinals' lead broadcaster. The game still was played in the day -- much to the regret of the players as the temperature on the field soared to 106 degrees.

Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, hasn't seen All-Star pageantry since 1964, its first year of operation. The game was a rare All-Star thriller with the National League winning 7-4 on Johnny Callison's three-run homer in the ninth.

Boston's Fenway Park, the major leagues' oldest stadium, last had the All-Star Game in 1961, when a Red Sox rookie named Carl Yastrzemski was confronting the legacy of Ted Williams, and a presidential rookie from the Bay State, John F. Kennedy, soon would confront the rise of the Berlin Wall.

Baltimore, which ranks high on most lists of "good baseball towns," hasn't been an All-Star host since 1958, way back in the Eisenhower era.

Finally, after 35 years, the All-Star Game will return to Maryland in 1993 at the Orioles' new Camden Yards stadium. In those 3 1/2 decades, a generation of National League stars, including Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Bob Gibson, never played in Baltimore.

The Texas Rangers, a mere adolescent compared with other non-hosts, soon will be the only one of the 26 major-league franchises never to have put on an All-Star Game.

Meanwhile, cities that hardly qualify as baseball capitals have had double helpings of the game. San Diego, which had the event only 13 years ago, will get it again next year. Houston, which is having trouble selling the franchise to local interests, was the All-Star host in 1968 and 1986. Pittsburgh, with a good team but few fans, had the game in 1974 and is due for a return engagement in 1994.

Why haven't St. Louis, Boston and the Mets been chosen in recent years? Why have the Rangers, now 20 years in existence, been completely shut out?

Very simple. During the 1970s and 1980s, none of these teams asked to be the host. No application, no game.

"Teams need to want the game," said Jim Smalls of Major League Baseball. "It takes a lot of work to do an All-Star Game, and some clubs just don't want it."

Orioles public relations director Rick Vaughn agrees.

"The years when the game would have been available [to Baltimore] in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we weren't that aggressive in pursuing it," Vaughn said. "Later it was decided to wait for the new stadium and then make a bid to get the game in the new place."

Texas also prefers to wait for its new stadium (due to open in 1994) before making a bid for the 1995 game, the next All-Star Game to be awarded.

"We have some problems with our current stadium in terms of space needed for the big national media crowd that covers the game," said John Blake of the Rangers. "But we're really excited about the possibility of having the 1995 All-Star Game. We'll have a 45,000- to 50,000-seat stadium [Arlington Stadium only seats 41,000] and a new press facility that will provide more room for the media. Space will be much better."

Stadium considerations also kept the Cardinals from seeking an All-Star Game while Busch Memorial Stadium underwent an extensive renovation. In addition, the illness and subsequent death of former owner August Busch II in 1989 put some plans on hold. But the Cards may bid for another All-Star Game, possibly in 1996, the 30th anniversary of Busch Memorial.

Venerable Fenway Park has undergone about 10 years of renovation, but even if the 79-year-old stadium were in perfect shape, the Red Sox would be unlikely to make an All-Star bid.

"The game is a joint venture between the city and the ballclub," said Richard Bresciani of the Red Sox. "Boston has been in a situation in recent years of not having the hotel space in the summer for an event of this nature. We have a very heavy influx of tourists in July and August, not just from New England, but from Canada and eastern New York."

All-Star MVPs

1990: Julio Franco, Texas, AL

1989: Bo Jackson, Kansas City, AL

1988: Terry Steinbach, Oakland, AL

1987: Tim Raines, Montreal, NL

1986: Roger Clemens, Boston, AL

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