- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Back in the early '50s, when I was a kid growing up in D.C., baseball's All-Star Game was indeed a Midsummer Classic. A chance to see our American League guys Williams, Rosen, Mantle, et al against such National League icons as Stan Musial, Willie Mays and (particularly) Jackie Robinson? Zowie!

Now, nearly half a century later, who cares?

My game plan for last night's activities in Seattle was to tune in early to watch the likely outpourings of affection when Cal Ripken is introduced and comes to bat for the first time a scene no true Orioles fan would want to miss. When Cal departed, probably after three innings, so would I.

The trouble with the All-Star Game is that, like all its brethren, it's just an exhibition that doesn't mean spit. In the old days, it gave folks living in one-team towns a chance to see stars from the other league. But now, with interleague play and the glut of highlights shows on TV, what's the big deal with getting a look at, say, Barry Bonds in the flesh? Hey, just keep an eye on ESPN and wait for him to hit his 40th homer if he ever does.

In fact, who needs to watch the game at all? If you wanted to see long-distance slugging, there was always Monday night's Home Run Derby. Even with all those commercials and inane interviews, the HRD wasted only two hours of our time. Try getting an All-Star Game, or any other, into a 120-minute span. You might as well yearn for flannel uniforms and players leaving their gloves on the field between innings.

And behind our apathy with All-Star affairs nowadays lies a deeper question: Should we and do we care about major league baseball at all anymore?

A long, long time ago, I loved the mediocre old Washington Senators as family. I didn't know players like Mickey Vernon, Eddie Yost and Jackie Jensen, but it seemed like I did. I mourned their defeats and rejoiced at their occasional triumphs, like beating the lordly Yankees in both ends of a day-night doubleheader when Opening Day was rained out and re

scheduled in 1951. The voices of the team's broadcasters, avuncular Arch McDonald and energetic Bob Wolff, were almost as familiar as those of my parents. And the baseball writers Shirley Povich in the Post, Bob Addie in the Times-Herald, Burton Hawkins in the Star were superstars in the eyes of a four-eyed kid with lousy coordination.

When Washington played in the West meaning Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis the games didn't start until 9 p.m. our time. On school nights, I'd go to bed around the fifth inning with a cumbersome "portable" radio hidden under my pillow and listen to Billy Pierce, Virgil "Fire" Trucks or Ned Garver shut out the Nats on five hits. Talk about the stuff of nightmares.

You may be thinking that all this sounds like something from the last century. Well, it was.

Baseball people dredge up all sorts of numbers to prove that the game is more popular than ever now, but I doubt that. For one thing, nobody still calls it the national pastime, at least not within earshot of the NFL. For another, there are 30 teams now, nearly twice as many as 40 years ago. For a third, you have to be at least semi-rich to take in a game.

The lowest-priced seats cost at least $10 . Parking is another $5 or $10. Hot dogs and a decent-sized soft drink are $4, and beer costs so much that Augie Busch himself would stop after one. And if you want one of those microwaved little pizzas, hoo boy.

And for all that, what do you get?

Ballgames that last 3? hours and turn working folks into zombies the next morning.

In the American League, dratted designated hitters that make a farce of the grand old game.

Pitching changes nearly every inning.

Rock music over the P.A. that makes it impossible to talk or think during lulls in the action, such as it were.

Fat-cat players who are too stupid and/or arrogant to sign autographs for the fans who pay their outrageous salaries.

Players who switch teams at the drop of a zillion or so bucks.

Owners who threaten to leave town if city or state officials don't give them a new ballpark free, plus the concession and parking fees.

No wonder the minor leagues are flourishing. No wonder TV ratings are down for major league telecasts. No wonder most of us don't pay attention to the All-Star Game or even the World Series.

It takes a lot to be a major league baseball fan these days, and I'm not sure it's worth it. The dunderheads who run the game have done everything possible to turn us off, and the worst part is that they don't even realize it. Now they're talking about contraction killing off some clubs that don't make money while the nation's capital sits here approaching its fourth decade without a team to call its own.

Some skeptics might say we're lucky, but to me a city without major league baseball just isn't major league even given the game's sorry condition.

Go ahead, call me an old fogey, or worse. But I bet you didn't watch the whole All-Star Game either. After all, why bother?

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