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Jul
12
2011

Ghosts of All-Star Games Past

Childhood heroes

As a 50th birthday present from one of his friends, my dad went to the legendary ’99 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. All I got was this forgotten gem of a T-Shirt, a priceless artifact I came across when rummaging through my closet this weekend in search of a particular pair of pants.

Perhaps it’s not evident from the low-resolution image you can see above (those Droid cameras aren’t quite as nice as they first appear), but the shirt’s immeasurable value lies in its humor. Nostalgia is a topic that’s been discussed quite a bit lately here on FanMan, but this is one relic baseball fans would probably like to forget about. That’s too bad; since it’s rediscovery, it has yet to fail to make me laugh.

The ’99 All-Star Game was one of the most memorable in recent memory. My father had seats behind the American League bullpen, shooting the breeze with Pedro minutes before Ted Williams rode around the infield on his chariot and Martinez–the AL Starter–struck out the first four batters he faced and five out of six total.

Amid this tribute to Bostonian baseball tradition was a tribute to baseball history in general, a celebration of the All-Century Team that saw the greatness of Mays and Aaron take the field with many of their similarly-legendary peers. 30,000 on hand were given a chance to applaud  and fawn and cry to their heat’s content. And applaud they did, although you’ll have to take my word on that considering MLB’s truly absurd media rights policy makes it quite difficult to find footage of the proceedings.

Minutes later, once the tears had dried and the legends had departed to the clubhouse or the box seats, these guys had taken their place on hallowed ground:

If it’s not evident from yet another relatively low-res image, you can click here for the ’99 All-Star rosters. If we knew on July 14th, 1999 what we know now, we would have been crying ourselves to sleep over the travesty that unfolded before our eyes.

All Midsummer Classic rosters have their fair share of blemishes. The undeserving Derek Jeters voted in by the 9 year-old girls on their father’s laps and the father who doesn’t have the balls–or the knowledge–to put a stop to his daughter’s madness. The numerous Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies that are honored by their massive fan bases. The Mark Redmans of the world, the least of 25 evils on one of baseball’s bottom-dwelling rosters. The Omar Infantes and Ceasar Izturises, undeserving mediocrities whose bestowment makes you incredulous. And yes, I just pluralized “Izturis.”

But ’99 was different. This is the heart of the steroids era, immortalized on a size Adult XL Tee that never has and hopefully never will fit me correctly.

It’s not just your 10 players definitively linked to steroids (Canseco, Palmiero, Matt Williams, Pudge among others). It wasn’t just numerous All-Stars whose mid-to-late 90′s performance spikes were more than a little suspiscious (I’m looking at you, Jay Bell!). Jeez, it wasn’t even Kent Bottenfield, who must have serenaded Bobby Cox for a sport on the roster.

After one of the greatest spectacles in baseball history ended and the legends departed, the ’99 All-Star game became a hodgepodge of drug use, sleaze and–perhaps worst of all–mediocrity. Sure, you had some untarnished awesomeness in the form of Tony Gwynn, an over-the-hill Barry Larkin and a not-yet dethroned Junior Griffey. And yes, you had “Spitting” Roberto Alomar and various other manifestations of unseemly qualities.

But when it comes to pure entertainment, at least the juicers provided some. Hard to say that about Royals hurler Jose Rosado.

Don’t remember that name? You’re probably not alone. Rosado never pitched an inning after the 2000 season.

You might remember Ed Sprague, if only because he managed to hang around big league clubhouses for more than a decade. You also might remember that Sprague was a .247/.318/.419 hitter whose most eye-popping statistic on his resume comes in the form of his single all-star appearance.

You might remember the late Jose Lima, creator of “Lima Time” and proprietor of a 21-10 1999 season. Lima had a 3.58 ERA in ’99. Only once over the next seven seasons would Lima post an ERA under 4.90. He finished over 5.00 four times and over 6.00 three times. And over 7.00 twice.

You might remember 22 other players who were first time All-Stars in 1999, 13 of which would never again play a professional baseball game during the All-Star Break.

The thing is, you probably don’t remember most of those names. That’s what makes that shirt so humorous. Not in a “laugh-out-loud” manner, but in an ironic, “None of this shit matters” type of way. This shirt and the roster and All-Star game that it represents symbolizes the fleetingness of success, the futility of celebrity and the ridiculousness of the All-Star game.

Isn’t it time we stop letting fans choose baseball’s best?

Jesse Golomb writes for Baseball Digest and is its All-Time Teams Guru. He is the creator and writer of The Fan Manifesto, a website for the educated sports fan. He can be followed on Twitter @TheFanManifesto or contacted by email at JesseGolomb@TheFanManifesto.com.

 

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