Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Take Me Out to the All Star Game
On Tuesday, July 11th, the city of Pittsburgh will host the Major League Baseball All Star game for the fifth time. The game will be the focus for baseball fans for a couple of hours; however, the weekend leading up to the game will have an assortment of activities---some associated with the game.
Canadians got a taste of All Star fever when the game was hosted by Montreal in 1982, and in Toronto in 1991. There are Fan Fest activities, and the traditional Home Run Derby. The winner of last year’s slugfest? Why Bobby Abreu, of course. He was designated to represent Venezuela at that time, as MLB was gearing up for its World Championships held this past spring. The other finalists were: Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, and David Ortiz. Jason Bay represented Canada. Unfortunately, he neglected to wear his long ball shoes, and did not register one dinger in the contest.
Bay will be a most popular All Star at this year’s event because he plays for the Pirates. He is having another outstanding season, having already copped a “Player of the Month” award in the National League. He also was the “Rookie of the Year” in his initial campaign in the Big Leagues.
Bay is not the only Canadian on the All Star ballot. There are three others, which may be the largest number of Canucks ever: Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins, Mark Teahen from the Kansas City Royals, and Corey Koskie from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Since the first All Star game played at Comiskey Park in Chicago, there have only been seven other Canadians to play the game. In no particular order: Paul Quantrill-born in London, but residing in the foothills north of Cobourg; Jeff Heath-Fort William; Eric Gagne-Montreal; Larry Walker, Maple Ridge, BC; Jeff Zimmerman, Kelowna, BC; George Selkirk, Huntsville, Ontario.
George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk began his major league career in a slightly unpopular fashion---he replaced Babe Ruth in the New York Yankees outfield. In fact, he took Ruth’s number 3, and wore it for his entire career. No Yankee has worn that number following Selkirk’s retirement. Selkirk played in two All Star games---in 1936 in Boston at the Braves Field, and in 1939 at Yankee Stadium.
Selkirk played nine seasons for the Yankees, and retired with a lifetime batting average of .290. His nickname was derived from his distinctive manner of walking.
He was part of the Dynasty---when the Yankees ruled the world of baseball. He has World Series rings from 1936 to 1939, and from 1941. He left the game following the 1942 season, joined the Navy and became an aerial gunner in the Second World War. He returned to baseball to coach, manage, and to teach---and was the General Manager of the Washington Senators.
Selkirk passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in his eightieth year in 1987. He is an inductee to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ontario.
The first All Star game was held at Comiskey in Chicago in 1933. The American League won the game, 4-2, led by Babe Ruth’s home run. Attendance was 49 200. There was no game in 1945, but there have been mid-season classics every other year.
The National League still had bragging rights for the tilt, having won 40 of the 76 games played. There have been two ties. Since 1988, however, the American League has won 15 of the 20 games played.
Positional players, that is everyone with the exception of the pitchers, are selected by the fans. All Star ballots are distributed at games prior to the All Star break, and fans may choose their favourites by punching out those damn little pieces of paper to make the appropriate holes in the ballot. Are they those famous “chads” from the Florida fiasco?
The Toronto Blue Jays’ Troy Glaus and Vernon Wells are on the ballot. There is also room for fans to write in Alex Rios’ name. A true Jays fan would do just that. Naturally, there are more ballots distributed and completed south of the border. That explains why there are so many Yankees and Mets chosen by the fans. There are also on-line ballots. Fans may vote 25 times! But only until June 29th. Yikes! Talk about stuffing the ballot box! Go to MLB.com.
Managers choose the pitchers, as well as a few other players. Every team must have a representative. Common sense occasionally prevails.
This year, there will also be a “Futures” game. Potential major league players suit up to strut their stuff---to catch the eye of a bird dog looking for raw talent. The game will be played as a Team USA against Team World. Gary Carter will manage the American squad, and Ferguson Jenkins will be at the helm of the rest of the world. Both, incidentally, are also inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jenkins relishes the opportunity to work the game: “These young men need exposure. This is their way of showing their talents to the world. Maybe these young men will be in the big leagues in a year or so. It’s important for them to play well.”
Carter currently manages the St. Lucie Mets in the advanced Class “A” Florida State League. He also has a bit of history with Jenkins, the Chatham, Ontario native.
“I didn’t face Fergie at the height of his career, but I do remember one incident. I hit a home run off him at Wrigley Field. In my next at bat, he hit me. In the old school, that’s the way things were done.”
All in all, an exciting time for baseball fans. Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and I’ll be home when I get there.