For Mets, it's about time, summer in the city
Queens denizens, long ambivalent about All-Star Game, ready to host again
NEW YORK -- Mayor Bloomberg had exhausted his ample supply of baseball cliches Wednesday morning -- he noted the 2013 All-Star Game will be an economic grand slam for his city, identified himself as the leadoff speaker and tossed in a "Ya Gotta Believe" just to remove all doubt. Every indication from him was that the Mets are to be the hosts for the All-Star Game.
His Honor then was replaced by Tim Brosnan, the executive vice president for business for Major League Baseball. The No. 2 hitter explained how any club comes to serve as host for baseball's summer showcase event.
"The game doesn't get here," Brosnan said, "unless the home team gets it here." Which is to say the Mets asked for it, met the requirements for it and, now for the second time in the history of the franchise, their ballpark will be busy when the game takes its annual coffee break.
We've known that for some time. Just the same the Mayor and the Mets gathered at City Hall Wednesday and made the term news conference a misnomer just to make it all official: July 16 -- American League at National League. Details to follow, though not for a while.
All of which proves the axiom that the more things change, the more they ... well, the more they change.
The game came to New York in 1964, the first year of Shea Stadium, and since then, the Mets have avoided the responsibility of playing host. They were all for other events -- the Beatles, the Pope, the Jets, the Stones, Clapton, Grand Funk, some soccer, the Promise Keepers -- at Shea or the Big Citi. And more "meaningful games" in September and October would have been welcomed.
The All-Star Game has been a different matter. The Stars hadn't aligned at Shea or Citi in all these years because the game would have been a monumental inconvenience with scant upside. As long ago as 1985, the Mets were quite disinterested in the event. Indeed, in 1990, Al Harazin, then the club's senior vice president, said: "We'd rather have the World Series here."
It was a nice way to say, "Thanks, but no thanks." Not that the game had been offered to the Mets, but they were proactive about it. They let it be known the Indians, the Pirates, the Mariners or any other club could take their turn.
The All-Star Game is an opportunity for some franchises, a responsibility for others. It is a mammoth undertaking for any. As Harazin said, "The work involved can be greater than the benefit." For a franchise as well-to-do as the Mets were then, the hassle would dwarf the reward.
"We can't say we've aggressively sought it," Harazin said. "But we'd take our turn if it came up." But there is no turn that can come up. Franchises apply to the Commissioner's Office. The only rotation is that the site alternates between the American League and National League.
"We inquired about it for the 25th anniversary of Shea," Harazin said, referring to 1989. "But when we did, we were told we would be on the bottom of a long list of clubs that had applied years earlier."
Harazin didn't say it, but the Mets were not all that disappointed when they were rejected.
"It's a popular thing for clubs that have a 25th or 50th anniversary or that have a new ballpark or if they're trying to spur ticket sales," he said. "If it's a new franchise, trying to establish its place in the market, it's a good attraction. But for a franchise like ours or L.A., we're not going to gain as much as some of the others."
So New York went without from 1964 when Johnny Callison of the Phillies hit a three-run home run against Dick Radatz, the Red Sox's other Monster, in the ninth inning to secure a 7-4 victory for the home team, until 1977, when Yankee Stadium was the site of a 7-5 victory for the National League.
But now the Mets want the public to see Citi Field, they want to use the All-Star Game to entice folks to sample the Citi and perhaps, if they enjoy themselves and the park, make a return trip some time before October. The Mets might even need the event as other clubs have needed it. The economy has revised the All-Star thinking of several franchises. Even Fenway wasn't sold out a few days back.
The Yankees didn't need the game in 1977, but even after a World Series, they were pleased to show off their refurbished home. Moreover, serving as host for the All-Star Game then was not undertaking it evolved into in the late '80s, much less the challenge it is today. Now All-Star programs fill five days.
The game in 1977 was followed by 31 more years of no stars in New York. Yankee Stadium 1, as some folks now call it, was in its final active year in 2008 when it was the site for the third time. The game lasted 15 innings, as if the Yankees and Red Sox were playing.
Now we have this, the All-Star Game at Citi Field for the first time. And who can say how many more years before New York is the site again?
Given that this city has had four franchises, three of which were active in 1933, the first year of the All-Star Game, New York has relatively little All-Star history.
The game was played at the Polo Grounds, the Giants home, in 1934. It provided the signature moment for Carl Hubbell -- strikeouts of Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons and Cronin in succession. Gehrig struck out three times and committed an error that day, by the way. Van Lingle Mungo -- the best name in any All-Star Game -- was the losing pitcher.
Yankees Stadium was the site in 1939. It was the Yankees' game in more ways than one. Six of the American League starters played at home that day, and Joe D. hit one out. Moreover, Gehrig, post-retirement, was on the roster as well as Frankie Crosetti and Lefty Gomez.
The Polo Grounds had a second Game in '42. Cardinals pitcher Mort Cooper, the eventual National League MVP, was the loser. Ebbets Field finally had its chance in 1949. Spahnie was hit hard, and Joe D. and brother Dom combined for three hits and four RBIs. Musial and Kiner hit home runs, but the other guys won for the 12th time in 16 games.
And then Yankee Stadium had its second chance in 1960. Mr. Theodore Ballgame made his final All-Star appearance and singled as a pinch-hitter. Musial, Mays, Mathews and Kenny Boyer hit home runs.
And now the city gets its eighth opportunity to be a Star, and the Citi get its first.
David Wright, the face of the Mets franchise, will be face of the game, too, for now promoting what is to come in July. He has a title, the official spokesperson for the All-Star FanFest. And he certainly could have another before too long -- National League third baseman.
And he wants so much to be home for the All-Star break. A six-time All-Star, Wright began his promoting at City Hall Wednesday.
"I'd give up all the others," he said, "to be a part of this one. ... New York knows how to throw a party."
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.