All-Star Gazing

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Despite the excessive hype, expanded rosters, and sideline distractions (read: Home Run Derby), there’s a certain bliss I find in baseball’s All-Star Game. That gloriously rare day on the calendar when the only American sporting event of note is a single baseball game. The best (or at least most popular) players converge on a single ballpark with league bragging rights — and not incidentally, home-field advantage for the World Series — at stake. When I was a child, this was the night my baseball cards came to life. And that feeling has lingered.

Some thoughts:

• The Memphis Redbirds have been well-represented at the Midsummer Classic, with three alumni appearing in each of the last six games. This includes players like Placido Polanco and Chris Perez, who earned All-Star nods in uniforms other than that of the St. Louis Cardinals. For the first time Tuesday night, four Redbirds alumni will be in uniform (all current Cardinals): Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Allen Craig, and Matt Carpenter. (Having thrown seven innings Sunday at Chicago, Wainwright will be inactive for the game.) Perhaps even more impressive, over the last two summers, seven different Redbirds alumni have been All-Stars. And none of them are named Albert Pujols.

• No franchise has gone longer without a home run in the All-Star Game than the St. Louis Cardinals. This would be easy money in a bar bet. Who was the last Cardinal to homer as an All-Star: Mark McGwire, Jack Clark, George Hendrick, Ted Simmons? Try Reggie Smith in 1974 (off Catfish Hunter). Smith only played two seasons with the Cardinals but was an All-Star both years.

• No Derek Jeter in this year’s All-Star Game. No Ichiro. No Chipper Jones, Randy Johnson, or Albert Pujols. A new All-Star era is indeed upon us. Consider that Bryce Harper’s final All-Star Game may be played in, oh, 2031.

• Lots of All-Star memories decorate my thoughts this time of year: Gary Carter’s two home runs in 1981 to welcome baseball back from the players’ strike; Cal Ripken’s send-off homer in 2001; Ichiro’s inside-the-parker at San Francisco in 2007. But to this day, the most distinct All-Star moment for me is Pittsburgh’s Dave Parker gunning down California’s Brian Downing at the plate in the 1979 game in Seattle. Dressed head to toe in Pirate yellow — the Seventies were almost over — the reigning National League batting champ retrieved a single on one hop then fired a pill that reached catcher Gary Carter in plenty of time to nail Downing (who, blocked by Carter, never touched the plate). It was enough to make a 10-year-old boy believe the game meant something. Down 6-5 at the time (Parker’s throw ended the seventh inning), the National League rallied to win, 7-6. For good measure, the Cobra also threw out Jim Rice at third.

• It’s become fashionable for the World Series champions to wear a patch on their uniforms the following season, denoting the team’s achievement. Why not allow a similar salute for All-Stars? I suggest a stripe (red or blue) around the left sleeve of an All-Star’s uniform the remainder of the season. This would give these select players, literally, a badge of honor and would help casual fans identify the game’s stars. Once a player makes his fifth (or tenth?) All-Star Game, the stripe is made gold ... and worn permanently.

• Second base has been a volatile position in St. Louis for some time now. Consider that Matt Carpenter is the first Cardinal All-Star at the position since Tommy Herr in 1985. Carpenter leads the National League in runs (72) and with 115 hits, could become only the second Cardinal in more than a quarter-century to pick up 200 hits in a season. Not bad for a guy who played third base for Memphis just two seasons ago (and hit an even .300 as a Redbird).

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