The MLB All-Star Game has always suffered from a bit of internal dissonance. On one hand, quoting Apollo Creed’s trainer Duke from Rocky IV: “This is supposed to be an exhibition!”—meant to showcase the sport’s greatest stars on a national stage while also providing a built-in breather for the grueling six-month schedule. On the other hand, it is an athletic contest played by highly competitive individuals. This leads to extraordinary and exciting feats—like Carl Hubbell & Pedro Martinez whiffing legends or Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse because Charlie Hustle only knew one speed (all-out).
By 2002, however, dissonance had grown to discord. Players seemed to view the event as more annoyance than accolade, and teams become extremely concerned about their highly-paid investments in a “meaningless” contest. It just so happened that the 73rd Midsummer Classic at Miller Park provided an immediate fulcrum upon which the whole endeavor shifted.
At the break, your Minnesota Twins were 7.5 games clear of any AL Central competitor. They were rewarded with Torii Hunter (starting in CF!), A.J. Pierzynski, & Eddie Guardado on the AL squad. Managed by Joe Torre—so often the case then—and led by moundsman Derek Lowe, the AL opposed NL manager Bob Brenly and starter Curt Schilling. It didn’t take long to shape up like an all-time classic.
In the bottom of the 1st, Barry Bonds launched a prodigious fly to center field that everyone assumed would leave Milwaukee’s new digs. Well, everyone save for Torii Hunter. Flanked by Manny Ramirez & Ichiro Suzuki, #48 got on his proverbial horse and hauled it back into the field of play. As Hunter was jogging in, Bonds playfully lifted him clear off his feet and an iconic All-Star moment was seemingly born.
As the game progressed, it proved to be a slugfest. For the Senior Circuit, Bonds got his round-tripper—off Roy Halladay—while Jimmy Rollins, Mike Lowell, & Damien Miller all collected multiple hits. On the Junior Circuit side, Alfonso Soriano homered off Eric Gagne and multiple safeties were recorded by Ramirez & Paul Konerko.
Checking in on the other Twins representatives: A.J. recorded three hitless at-bats, while Everyday Eddie faced two batters—Andruw Jones & Jose Hernandez—and K’d them both.
In the top of 8th inning Omar Vizquel tripled off Robb Nen, plating Robert Fick and knotting the score at 7-7. That’s when things got interesting. Home plate remained spotless through the rest of the 8th—and the 9th—and the 10th. At that point the respective bullpens were empty, with Freddy Garcia (AL) & Vincent Padilla (NL) having already pitched an inning. Before the eleventh began, Torre and Brenly huddled with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. After furrowed brows and the iconic Selig Shrug, it was announced that if there was no winner after the 11th concluded, the game would end in a tie.
After the AL was set down harmlessly in the top half and Benito Santiago went down swinging to end the frame, a stalemate is exactly what transpired—to a chorus of boos and “Let them play!”, “Re-fund!”, & “Bud must go!” chants. No winner—no MVP—and all previous highlights washed away in the shock & embarrassment of what had just transpired.
Flash-forward 20 years to the present, and MLB is much more at peace with the All-Star festivities. Though I credit the “This Time It Counts” experiment (AS Game result determining World Series home-field advantage from 2002-2016) for revitalizing interest in the contest, it is now treated like the exhibition it was always meant to be. Rules are bent to create epic Ohtani moments, starting pitchers are often selected for as much sentimental as performance-driven reasons, and legacy roster spots—like Miguel Cabrera & Albert Pujols this year—help connect baseball’s recent past with its burgeoning future. In many ways, the Home Run Derby has eclipsed the nine-inning affair in both competitive and fan excitement—and that is okay too.
For Twins fans, it was—perhaps still is—hard to accept Hunter’s national coming-out party ruined by the same authority figure who nearly contracted the organization. But it may very well have taken such a stark MLB failure that night to move towards the better place the event now finds itself in.