It comes around every July: the Midsummer Classic. For one summer week, the world of baseball stops and culminates in an exhibition game featuring the game’s brightest stars.
The 87th MLB All-Star Game occurred last night, and the experience sure was memorable. From the awesome Home Run Derby competition on Monday, the classy on-field ceremonies before the game on Tuesday and of course the All-Star Game itself, the entire All-Star Game experience lived up to all the hoopla.
And thanks to all the All-Star hubbub that permeates these types of festivities, few All-Star Games actually live up to the hype. Despite constant promotion, new innovations, and the promise of seeing the game’s best in one place, neither the NFL, NHL, nor NBA can top the MLB’s All-Star Game year after year.
Fans look forward to each league’s All-Star Game months in advance, especially if the event is hosted in a location close in proximity. But despite the potential of these events, they rarely create standout moments or memories, at least as far as the NFL, NHL, and NBA are concerned.
The MLB All-Star Game is the one that started it all. This year was the 87th annual Midsummer Classic, a number that speaks to the tradition of the event. The very first MLB All-Star Game saw none other than Babe Ruth swat the game’s first home run. This familiar sight set the tone for the MLB All-Star Game as just another game.
Future leagues implemented All-Star Games in the coming years. The first NFL All-Star Game was held in 1939 and the first Pro Bowl in 1951, the inaugural NHL All-Star Game took place in 1947, and the first NBA All-Star Game was in 1951.
These games were gimmicky in nature. The NFL and NHL All-Star Games saw the defending champions take on a group of All-Stars, while the NBA pitted the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference, which was more akin to the MLB formula of American League against National League.
As time passed, the games only got more kitschy. The Pro Bowl took place in Hawaii, a state with no NFL ties, for much of its history, the NHL All-Star Game became a 3-on-3 tournament rather than an actual game, and the NBA contest became more of a Dunkfest than a real basketball game.
However, the MLB All-Star Game remained, in its simplest sense, a baseball game. There are no new, innovative rules. There is still 9 innings of AL vs NL baseball, and only the best of the best get an invite to the game.
Fans may struggle to name memorable moments from either the Pro Bowl, NHL All-Star Game, or NBA All-Star Game. While at least a few certainly come to mind, it is more difficult to think of one for these games than it is to think of one for the MLB All-Star Game.
Between touching ceremonies like the ones in Fenway Park in 1999 and Yankee Stadium in 2008, classic walk-offs by Ted Williams and Stan Musial in 1941 and 1955, an unlikely tie in 2002, and the honoring of legends such as Cal Ripken Jr., Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and most recently David Ortiz, the MLB All-Star Game has had a rich history.
A history that cannot be matched by the other sports leagues.
As the NFL, NHL, and NBA contests have transformed into high-scoring, unrealistic exhibitions, the MLB All-Star Game has remained a classic baseball game, which has led to so many remarkable, historic moments.
Over time, it has become commonplace for All-Star Games to become an entire weekend of events, which has enhanced the memorability of the All-Star Experiences.
The NBA started this trend with the introduction of the Slam Dunk Contest in 1984. The competition showcased the most exciting aspect of the sport and brought in the best of the best to duke it out, while captivating fans’ imaginations.
But this too would be bettered by the MLB just one year later. In 1985, Major League Baseball introduced the Home Run Derby, an event that has produced almost as many memories as the All-Star Game itself. It too relies on the same premise as the Slam Dunk Contest: taking the most marketable aspect of the sport and magnifying it.
The NHL countered in 1990 with the NHL All-Star Game SuperSkills Competition, which is great fun but pales in comparison to the Derby. The NBA also introduced their own Skills Challenge in 2003 to partner with the Dunk Contest. Interestingly, the NFL, which arguably has the widest fan base, has yet to introduce any type of skills competition.
And again, though there are certainly some fond memories in the NBA and NHL skills competitions, the MLB takes the cake with the Home Run Derby. With Ken Griffey Jr.’s heroics as he captured 3 Home Run Derby Championships in the 1990s, the battles between Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, the surprise of Bobby Abreu in 2005, Josh Hamilton’s dominance in 2008, and the revamped format of the 2015 and 2016 Derbies, the Home Run Derby has served up memories in spades.
The competition between major sports leagues is always fierce, and each league has at least one thing to offer that another one cannot. And for Major League Baseball, the pride, tradition, and memorability of the All-Star Game is a trump card that remains unmatched by its rivals.