Midsummer Classics field whittled down to eight
Two Splendid Splinter moments among first-round winners
Everyone's talking about the All-Star Game.
In addition to the unreal turnout of voters currently deciding starters for the 82nd All-Star Game on July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix, the event's tradition is front and center with the Midsummer Classics bracket competition. Fans have decided the quarterfinal matchups to cut a field of 16 in half, going more old school than one might have imagined, and all 30 Major League Baseball clubs have joined in by having some of their players share favorite All-Star memories.
"My favorite All-Star memory was scoring the winning run in the 15th inning in New York," Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. "It was a long game, but we ended up winning. We were in the playoff hunt at the time, and we were hoping to have home-field advantage for the World Series. It was a real close play at the plate, and I saw the picture from it and I actually got it signed by Brian McCann, who was the catcher. It's something I have hanging up at my house and something I'm pretty proud of."
"I watched Pedro [Martinez] when he was pitching in Boston," Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels recalled of 1999, "in that big game that he had there, and what sort of erupted after striking out all those guys."
Morneau's favorite moment was huge, but perhaps surprisingly it went down in flames in the first round of the voting competition. Ted Williams' 1941 walk-off homer scored the largest first-round victory, knocking out that 2008 All-Star Game in the last year of Yankee Stadium.
And interestingly enough, Hamels' favorite memory now has to go head-to-head against that Williams walk-off. The 1999 All-Star Game is remembered not just for Martinez's strikeout display, but also for the emotional All-Century Greats pregame ceremony, featuring Williams at his Fenway Park home. So for Splendid Splinter fans, there is a significant quandary in the quarterfinal matchup. Which Williams moment moves on?
In the other three quarterfinal matchups, it's Cal Ripken's 2001 MVP swan song vs. Reggie Jackson's 1971 power display; Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden's 1984 strikeout roll vs. that of Carl Hubbell in 1934; and Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse in 1970 vs. Stan Musial's 1955 game-winning blast.
The field of 16 games included eight from each league, selected by former All-Stars and MLB Network analysts Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds, and Mitch Williams. Voting continues until the semifinal matchups are set next Saturday, and it gets tougher as we move closer to the winning announcement on FOX during next month's All-Star Game.
Babe Ruth's historic homer in the inaugural 1933 contest didn't make it out of the first round -- but no one can say modern online voters are giving the recent candidates an edge. A year after Ruth's first long ball, Hubbell, the New York Giants' ace, carved a legend by striking out five future Hall of Famers in a row: Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in the second inning, then Al Simmons and Joe Cronin to start the third. It was probably the most dominant individual pitching performance in All-Star history, and voters chose it over Dave Parker's 1979 defensive wizardry in right.
It was Ripken who knocked Ruth out in the first round, and it will be interesting to see if anyone can touch the Orioles' Hall of Fame Iron Man in this competition. After all, fans voted Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game played the Most Memorable Moment in MLB history in 2002. That poll was taken the year after he played in his last All-Star Game, winning the MVP award in the process. Now that Ripken has just beaten the Sultan of Swat, can he be stopped?
"The meaning of baseball," Ripken once said, "is to look back on moments."
Now it's Ripken vs. Reggie, and good luck with that one. Jackson already has scored one impressive victory, winning that power vs. power battle against Bo Jackson. Voters went with the former's 1971 display, hitting a light-tower transformer in that long-ball bash -- almost doubling the vote total for the 1989 game in Anaheim, where "Bo Knows Baseball" was all the rage.
Looking back at the moment Rose plowed into Fosse at the plate in Cincinnati, fans decided it was a bigger deal than the 1994 game, when Tony Gwynn dashed home with the winning run for the National League. They also liked Musial's 12th-inning walk-off homer in '55 better than the funny moment in 1993, when John Kruk had to duck under a wild Randy Johnson pitch.
Cardinals fans figure to show up en masse to back Stan the Man in this matchup. Reds fans will show up big for Charlie Hustle. St. Louis vs. Cincinnati? It sounds a little like the current game, only this one will be old school all the way, and we'll see if Musial can overcome Rose's advantage of constant replays.
Now that we're down to eight, there will be more talk about those specific games. But meanwhile, look for a constant barrage of Midsummer Classics memories from past and present players.
"My favorite All-Star memory is sitting on my couch in 1980, watching my dad win the MVP in L.A.," said Ken Griffey Jr., a 13-time All-Star who provided plenty of memories of his own.
"My favorite All-Star memory is walking into the hotel and seeing the caliber of players I was around, from the American League and National League, and everybody congratulating you and you congratulating them on making the All-Star team," said Houston outfielder Michael Bourn, now 1-0 in All-Star Games after finishing last year's game in left field. "That was my first one, and I was very excited and very honored and thankful for being there. It's something I will remember and respect for the rest of my life."
Voting is taking place in four stages, with each round running Saturday to Saturday. Round 1 was June 11-18; Round 2 is June 18-25; the semifinals are June 25-July 2; and the final round is July 2-9. There are no limits on the number of times fans can vote.
"Like all of our jewel events, the Midsummer Classic has produced memories for fans for over 75 years," said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business. "This program is intended to refresh those memories and celebrate this year's All-Star matchup."
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Phoenix will be televised nationally on July 12 by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage.