This is how things have changed over the years.
The first time major league baseball’s All-Stars came to Los Angeles, they had to shoehorn the Midsummer Classic into the schedule. It was Aug. 3, 1959, and baseball had added a second All-Star Game (the first was played the month before in Pittsburgh) to celebrate L.A.’s second year as a big league city. There were no days off; the game at the Coliseum was on a Monday and the regular schedule resumed Tuesday. There was, as you might expect, some griping.
“A second game is stupid,” pitcher Early Wynn told the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Hank Hollingsworth. “If you have four hours, I can tell you all the reasons I don’t like it.”
The All-Stars came back to L.A. 21 years later. The 1980 All-Star Game included the Dodger Stadium debut of DiamondVision, the full-color video board hovering over the left field pavilion that was the first of its kind. It also featured four starters from the home team – Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Reggie Smith, voted in by the fans – plus pitchers Jerry Reuss and Bob Welch.
One of those six wasn’t particularly enthused about being there. Stay with us. We’ll explain.
And at least there was a real All-Star break that time, but the game itself was the only attraction. The Dodgers did their part to make things more festive by holding their Oldtimers Game the Sunday before the break, including the memorable image of Duke Snider, Willie Mays (in a Mets uniform) and Joe DiMaggio walking in from the center field gate. But there was no Monday public workout or Home Run Derby.
Now, 42 years later, the All-Stars finally return to The Ravine next week, and it’s the finale of what has almost become All-Star Week. The Futures Game (and celebrity softball monstrosity) are Saturday, the amateur draft is Sunday, the Home Run Derby is Monday and the game takes place Tuesday, and they’re surrounded by fan events at Santa Monica Pier beginning Friday and L.A. Live beginning Saturday.
(But if you were expecting the home team’s representatives to actually wear Dodger blue, blame Nike for again dumping on baseball tradition. This year’s All-Star uniforms are less generic but have a color scheme of gold – for Hollywood, get it? – and charcoal gray. Ugh.)
Can we please figure out a way to get Nike out of the baseball uniform business?
The only thing kind you can say about these is that they’re better than last year’s monstrosities. But what on earth is wrong with players wearing their teams’ colors? These are ugly. https://t.co/z4CLm6dsf3
— Jim_Alexander (@Jim_Alexander) July 11, 2022
In that 1959 game the late Don Drysdale started and took the loss, giving up home runs to Frank Malzone and game MVP Yogi Berra in the American League’s 5-3 victory before 55,105. Drysdale was still trying to figure out how to pitch in the Coliseum, with its 251-foot distance down the left field line, 320 feet in the left-center power alley and 42-foot screen.
He and other pitchers breathed sighs of relief when Dodger Stadium opened 60 years ago, but by 1980 what was once a pitcher’s haven had become a launching pad in comparison. Remember, the 1977 Dodgers were the first team to have four players hit 30 or more home runs.
Two of those four were All-Stars in ’80, Garvey and Smith. Third baseman Ron Cey lost out to St. Louis’ Ken Reitz and Cincinnati’s Ray Knight; the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt had to bow out because of a muscle pull. Left fielder Dusty Baker, who hadn’t yet made an All-Star team, was bypassed by Pirates and NL manager Chuck Tanner although he’d finished fourth in fan balloting, and Baker told us the day of the announcement that he’d expected it even if no one else in L.A. had.
“Somebody has to be it. I guess it just seems like it’s me all the time,” he said then. ” … I’m just a spoke in the wheel. It’s not for me to understand. I just know it can’t stop me from scalding the ball.”
Dusty did earn All-Star berths in 1981 and ’82, and will be managing his second All-Star Game Tuesday. And yes, I know he now represents the Houston Astros, but maybe it’s worth applauding him during the introductions rather than booing, just for old times’ sake.
The guy who didn’t want to be there? Reggie Smith.
He was an intense, proud individual, and he was still upset from a hassle over tickets for his family at the 1978 game in San Diego that wasn’t settled until just before game time. After he was announced as one of the 1980 starters on July 1, he said: “My feelings haven’t changed. I wish I hadn’t been voted in. That would have given me an out. … I’m not especially excited over being selected, even if I am a starter for the first time. And it’s mainly out of principle.”
He thanked the fans who voted for him and said he appreciated the sentiment, but reiterated that he was going to play only because he figured he’d be fined and/or suspended if he didn’t.
This was, in a way, an endearing quality of those late-’70s and early-’80s Dodgers. They weren’t cuddly, and they didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear, but they were unflinchingly honest.
(Footnote: Reggie was an honorary coach on Dave Roberts’ staff at last year’s All-Star Game in Denver, and he was absolutely delighted to be there.)
As it turned out, the four Dodgers starters in the 1980 game were 0 for 7, while the Angels’ Rod Carew was 2 for 2 with a run scored and Bobby Grich walked in his only plate appearance. Welch gave up five hits and a two-run homer to Fred Lynn, who was then with the Red Sox, in the fifth inning.
Reuss pitched the sixth and got the win when the NL scored twice in the bottom of the inning, off former Dodger Tommy John, to take the lead for good in a 4-2 win. (Future Dodger Willie Randolph would commit a key error in the inning.)
The Reds’ Ken Griffey Sr. was the game’s MVP, going 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI. His son, Ken Jr., was 10 at the time, seven years away from being the No.1 pick in the draft and launching a career that would put him in the Hall of Fame in 2016.
If you remember all or even any of that, don’t you feel old?
The other storyline of that 1980 game: It was the National Leaguers’ 22nd victory in the previous 24 games, a streak that started after that 1959 loss. The NL would go on to win 27 of 31 through 1987, but the AL has won 27 of the last 33, had a 13-year winning streak at one point and is currently working on an eight-game winning streak.
“It’s inevitable that we’re eventually going to lose to them,” Russell said after the 1980 game. “But nobody wants to be part of the team that does it.”
League identities were more distinct then, and the leagues’ presidents (when the position existed) would come into the clubhouse and give pre-game pep talks. Individual players were apt to be like Al Oliver, who was an Expo when he proudly said this before the 1982 game in Montreal: “I’m a National Leaguer.”
And that was after playing four seasons in Texas.
But next Tuesday night it’s not necessarily about winning one for your league. It’s an exhibition, it’s about giving the fans what they want to see – ugly uniforms aside – and isn’t that the way it should be?