Fear of empty seats once led sellout city to take All-Star pass

John Steadman

April 28, 1993|By John Steadman

That it has taken Baltimore 35 years -- the longest wait i baseball history -- to play host to its second All-Star Game brings a revealing explanation. It wasn't that those in charge of 'N awarding the event, the owners of major-league clubs, were neglectful or cavalier. Not that at all.

It is, surprisingly enough, a far different reason why the All-Star show hasn't played in Baltimore since 1958 or, for political reference, back when Eisenhower was president. The issue has been debated ad infinitum.

Why was the game not held in Baltimore for more than three decades while other cities availed themselves of repeat opportunities? The answer, compared to what's happening today with the Orioles drawing sellouts in 65 of their last 66 home dates, seems illogical and unreasonable.

But let the truth emerge. Baltimore didn't have a game because the Orioles felt to do so would be risking embarrassment. Fear overrode interest. Team management didn't want to be faced with trying to explain if the game failed to attract a capacity audience.

It would have been a woeful indictment of the city if the All-Star Game had been scheduled here and not all the tickets were sold. The Orioles had problems, at a period of time when they had contending teams on a perennial basis, even selling out the postseason playoff. Opening Day was a struggle, too; not all of those had a full house.

The Orioles also were concerned the same shortfall in ticket-buying was possible in a World Series -- although it never happened. The easiest path for the Orioles to take was politely to decline the All-Star Game. Rather that than not fill the stadium.

The present state of the Orioles' popularity, where they only have to open the gates to draw a crowd, tends to contradict the past. Yet it's a fact of life the Orioles -- especially when the Colts were enjoying unprecedented success -- had a struggle to reach a million fans a year. Now they draw three times that many.

For verification and to support the contention of why Baltimore didn't attempt to stage the All-Star Game in the 1960s, '70s or '80s, we turned to Frank Cashen, general manager of the Orioles from 1966 until 1975. Now a vice-president/consultant with the New York Mets, Cashen is fully aware of what transpired in his old hometown and in baseball.

"We had an opportunity, at least once, maybe twice, when I was with the Orioles, to have the game," he said. "The possibility was discussed but we decided against it. Don't forget, we didn't sell out the championship series a couple of times."

The only regret the Orioles have now as they prepare for the July 13 classic is they don't have a park three times its size to accommodate the demand. Cashen also points out it requires an immense amount of preparation, which the current organization is discovering.

xTC Julie Wagner, the Orioles' All-Star coordinator, has put together the program that leads up to the opening pitch of the aptly named "dream" game, first held in 1933 at Chicago's Comiskey Park. The result of her work, along with others assisting in the effort, is a series of activities spotlighting Baltimore and baseball.

The celebration starts July 8, when the Orioles meet the Chicago White Sox in the first of a four-game series, and continues until the night of the All-Star Game.

"We want to highlight the wonderful things that are important to the city and region," says Wagner. "It's been 35 years since Baltimore hosted the All-Star Game and we want to make the entire week an unforgettable experience for everyone, whether they have All-Star Game tickets or not."

There will be a tribute to Negro Leagues players from the past, a Baltimore Symphony All-Star concert, a street fair and a fanfest to be held at the Convention Center, which will serve as the pre-game centerpiece of the extravaganza.

Enthusiasm may surpass anything that ever happened in Baltimore sports, including the Preakness, a National Football League championship, two Army-Navy games and four World Series.

Imagine, though, why Baltimore passed up the All-Star spectacular in years past. It worried it couldn't sell enough tickets and thus, of course, put a bad reflection on the city.

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