It was one of the great moments in baseball history: July 9, 2002. The American League All-Stars and the National League All-Stars were tied 7-7 in the bottom of the 11th. Vicente Padilla had just held the AL scoreless in the top of the inning. There was a problem, however: Padilla and Freddy Garcia of the AL were the last available pitchers for their teams. Padilla had pitched his two innings and Garcia was about to pitch his second. The umpires and managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly met with commissioner Bud Selig next to the first-base dugout.
The photograph is etched into our baseball consciousness, alongside Yogi Berra leaping into Don Larsen’s arms or Kirk Gibson’s upraised right arm: Selig, in his orange and maroon checkered tie, arms upraised in the ultimate "What can we do?" pose. The game would end in a tie if the NL didn’t score.
When the decision was announced in the ballpark, the fans in Milwaukee -- Selig’s hometown -- let loose with a chorus of boos. They threw beer bottles on the field and chanted "Let them play!" and "Bud must go!"
The National League didn’t score. Mike Lowell reached second base with one out, but Padilla was forced to bat in those days before the DH was used in NL parks as the NL was also out of position players (yes, Junior Spivey, Damian Miller and Jose Hernandez had already been burned). Padilla struck out and then Garcia fanned Benito Santiago looking and the game was over. Fans littered the field with more bottles.
Now, you might remember Selig getting ripped and mocked after the game. You can choose to remember events that way, but you do so only as yet another mindless critic and ignore the fallout that resulted in one of the tremendous ideas in sports history: Now the All-Star Game would count. The winning league would receive home-field advantage in the World Series. Now managers would play to win. The best players in the sport would help determine what happens in October instead of leaving after the fifth inning to take their charter flights home. Now it counted.
Think of what this has meant. The American League won the 2004 All-Star Game. It scored six runs off Roger Clemens in the top of the first. That fall, the Red Sox ended their 86-year title drought. Does that happen if they don’t host the first two games of the World Series at Fenway Park?
The AL won again the next year. Matt Clement and Jon Garland pitched scoreless innings. Shea Hillenbrand made his second All-Star appearance. Kenny Rogers and Bob Wickman tried to give the lead away, but luckily Mariano Rivera came on to get the final out. That win meant the World Series began in Chicago. Do the White Sox end their 88-year drought if the series begins in Houston?
The 2009 All-Star Game was another good game. Both squads really wanted to win this one and fought hard into the eighth inning, with the game still tied. It was like Ali and Frazier trading punches, only it was guys like Ryan Franklin, Chad Billingsley and Francisco Cordero doing the punching. Aaron Hill started for the AL. Brandon Inge replaced him. In the eighth the AL pushed a run across against Heath Bell. Mariano Rivera closed it out, striking out Brad Hawpe in the process.
In the fall, the Yankees had home-field advantage against the Phillies and clinched it at home in Game 6, ending their long, nine-year title drought. I hope they gave a World Series share to Edwin Jackson, who pitched a scoreless inning for the AL.
Don’t forget the 2010 All-Star Game. Matt Capps was the winning pitcher for the NL in a 3-1 victory. Phil Hughes took the loss, Matt Thornton the blown save. Ty Wigginton was an All-Star. Maybe if Joe Girardi hadn’t pinch-hit Nick Swisher for him, the AL wins. The Giants had home-field edge for the World Series, won the first two games by scores of 11-7 and 9-0, and went on to win their first World Series since moving to San Francisco.
As for 2016, the AL won the All-Star Game. You probably still have the game saved on your DVR. Maybe it was a good thing that Wil Myers started in the cleanup spot for the NL, that Marcell Ozuna started in center field, that luminaries like Odubel Herrera and Adam Duvall got into the game. They helped the AL win, which meant the Indians had home-field advantage against the Cubs.
But the Cubs won that series, you point out. Yes, but since the game was in Cleveland we had that 17-minute rain delay after the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Jason Heyward gave his historic speech that spurred the Cubs to victory, ending their 108-year title drought. "I just wanted them to remember how good they were, how good we are," Heyward said after the game. "Know how proud of them I was and that I loved them. That I mean it from the bottom of my heart."
It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it again. So no AL victory in the All-Star Game, no game in Cleveland, no rain delay, no inspirational speech and no Cubs World Series victory. You know damn well that if the game is played in Wrigley Field the Cubs lose, with the defeat blamed on Joe Maddon's special pregame guest who tells the team that "Losing is a disease, as contagious as syphilis."
Now the All-Star Game means nothing. The new collective bargaining agreement will assign home-field to the pennant winner with the best record. Whatever. I guess that’s fine, although I feel bad for the kids who have grown up with the All-Star Game counting for something. Now what? Will they miss caring whether Eduardo Nunez gets into the game? Will they simply abandon baseball forever for lacrosse and ultimate fighting? What will they do on that Tuesday night in July with no meaningful baseball?