Night of stargazing offers a warehouse of memories

July 11, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The All-Star Game is all about images. The reputation of Reggie Jackson grew mythical with one mighty swing at Tiger Stadium in 1971. The hard-nosed, ever-hustling persona of Pete Rose did not truly take shape until his controversial home-plate crash into catcher Ray Fosse in 1970.

Does anyone remember the score of either of those games? Probably not, because the midsummer classic is not really about winning or losing. It is an exhibition game in the truest sense of the word ` an exhibition of the best and brightest that the game has to offer, presented under real-game conditions to make the matchups and the great moments authentic.

The NBA All-Star Game has stolen some ratings points, but it is more of a show than a real game. The NHL All-Star Game is interesting, but the checking rules have been altered so much that the competition loses the aggressive edge that makes hockey exciting. The Pro Bowl has become little more than a Hawaiian vacation in football pads. That's why this is the one that can get away with calling itself The All-Star Game without fear of confusion.

It is a movable feast of baseball excellence, going from city to city and growing steadily in pomp and circumstance since the idea was brought to life by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward back in baseball's golden age. The first All-Star Game was played at Comiskey Park in 1933, and Babe Ruth who was the undisputed greatest of the great -- christened it with a home run. You see, from the very start it was all about great moments and the possibility of them.

That's why baseball fans will flock to Camden Yards this week for the game and the festivities that surround it. The event itself is a great moment for a city that has gone through decades of transition to become one of the jewels of the American League. It has been 35 years since the All-Star Game visited a nearly new Memorial Stadium in 1958, and a lot has happened -- to the city, rTC to the team, to the game -- since then.

Memorial Stadium played host to six World Series and was home to world championship teams in both baseball and football, but it took a new ballpark to lure the midsummer classic back to Baltimore after an unusually long absence. The 1958 game will be replayed in the minds of many this week, but the 64th All-Star Game figures to create a new set of memories for a new generation of Baltimore baseball fans.

In Detroit, they remember Reggie's home run off a rooftop transformer. In Washington, they remember Willie McCovey's two mammoth home runs in the 1969 game at RFK. In Anaheim, Calif., it was the 450-foot leadoff homer by first-time All-Star Bo Jackson in 1989.

It hasn't always been an offensive highlight. Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell struck out Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession in 1934 to produce one of the first truly legendary All-Star performances. But the limited number of innings allotted to each pitcher makes it almost impossible for a pitcher to dominate a game in the way that, say, hometown hero Ted Williams did with two home runs in the 1946 game at Fenway Park.

The Orioles' Cal Ripken will be in a position to do the same on Tuesday night. He was the top vote-getter among American League shortstops for the ninth time in the past 10 years, so he again will be in the All-Star starting lineup. This may not be his most productive season, but it wouldn't be the first time he has stolen the show.

Ripken was the Most Valuable Player in the 1991 All-Star Game in Toronto, hitting a three-run home run off ex-teammate Dennis Martinez to carry the American League to a 4-2 victory. He also dominated the pre-game home run hitting contest, hitting 12 balls out, seven more than any of the other seven competitors.

The All-Star workout day has become a major event in itself, and there will be added intrigue this year. The B&O warehouse stands untouched behind the right-field wall, but it does not figure to remain that way when some of the top left-handed sluggers take aim at it against batting practice fastballs tomorrow.

If it goes down during the game, so much the better. That's the kind of magic moment that would etch this All-Star Game into local legend and baseball history. That's the kind of moment that would make Oriole Park at Camden Yards a landmark instead of an address.

But who? Barry Bonds, who just might be the best player of his generation? Mickey Tettleton, who has come close with a couple of shots already? Who cares? The warehouse, 432 feet from home plate at its closest point, may never again face a greater threat or a greater collection of big hitters, at least not until the All-Star Game finds its way back to Baltimore in another 30 years or so.

One thing is certain: If Reggie were playing still, it wouldn't stand a chance.

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