Day before no longer afterthought Home run hitters, old-timers displayed

July 11, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

There was a time when the day before the game was the biggest drag on the All-Star schedule. It was a three-hour photo and interview opportunity dreaded by players and off-limits to fans.

That's no longer the case. With the introduction of the home run hitting contest and the addition of an old-timers' game, the showcase on the eve of the All-Star Game has become a spectacle itself.

The transformation from a dull, required appearance to an attraction began 15 years ago, when All-Star workouts in San Diego were opened to the public. Seven years later, at the urging of then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth, home run hitting and throwing contests were added, and an admission charged for the first time.

With all money raised going to charity, prices for tickets to the workouts have risen from $2 in 1985 to a top price of $12 for tomorrow's event.

Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken has been a regular performer in the home run hitting contest, and ex-Orioles Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell are frequent performers in the old-timers' games.

"I think it [the day of festivities] is another example of what I call the entertainment side of the game," Ripken said. "It adds something to the game itself. It's like a big celebration now. I always considered an All-Star Game as a spectacle, not as big as the Super Bowl, but along those lines. Even when I was with my dad [Cal Sr.] when he was managing in the minor leagues, any time the All-Star Game was in your park it was a big deal."

Ripken has participated in three of the home run hitting contests, including an amazing performance in Toronto two years ago. He hit 12 home runs in 22 swings to lead the AL to a 20-7 victory in that one. But he preferred the relay-throwing contest -- involving teams of outfielders, infielders and catchers from both leagues -- which was dropped after 1989 because of the risk of injury.

"I remember hoping to be asked to compete [in the relay throw]," he said. "But I've always felt a little uncomfortable in the home run hitting contest. I don't perceive myself as being a true home run hitter. I've had the opportunity to hit some home runs -- but I don't consider myself in the same class as Cecil Fielder, Jose Canseco, Mickey Tettleton and a lot of other guys."

Still, Ripken said he looks forward to All-Star eve.

"The whole thing is a fantastic time, the competition and being able to be with All-Stars from earlier years," he said.

The old-timers, who also play a series of games in every major-league and some minor-league parks during the course of the season, enjoy the experience as well.

"This [the All-Star Game] is the best one," said Powell, who has had to limit his schedule since becoming the barbecue king of Camden Yards. "I don't play in as many of the games as Brooksie -- I think he's still playing a full schedule -- but this one will be a lot of fun."

Robinson has been a regular on the old-timers' tour and hasn't lost his enthusiasm for the games. But he hints that the game at Camden Yards could be his last.

"This is something special," said the Hall of Fame third baseman. "It's fun being part of the festivities.

"But this might be it for me. Dave Kingman hit a one-hop rocket off my chest last year that could've killed me. I saw George Kell [another Hall of Famer, who was Robinson's predecessor as Orioles third baseman] later and he said to me, 'That's why I don't play in these things.'

"I don't play in that many anymore, and I think it might be about time to give it up. This could be my last one. I could play my last game in Baltimore -- again."

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