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Friday, July 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The last time the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was in the area the game may have changed forever.

In 1993, one year after Baltimore’s Camden Yards opened, the Orioles hosted the All-Star Game — a game that will forever be remembered for the Mike Mussina-Cito Gaston feud, when the American League manager and skipper of the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays refused to put in the hometown pitcher in a 9-3 AL blowout, resulting in an avalanche of boos from the Camden Yards fans and bitter feelings that lasted for years.


Former commissioner Bud Selig says the 2002 All-Star tie debacle in his hometown of Milwaukee was a result of what happened in Baltimore in 1993.

“The game had slipped,” Selig told reporters in 2005. “I think in 1993, it started to slip. When Mike Mussina didn’t get in the game in Baltimore and Cito Gaston got booed. It was very ugly.”

I think that may be a reach. Former players say that when New York Yankees manager Joe Torre was repeatedly managing AL All-Star teams (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004), he downplayed competitiveness, something they felt had a greater impact. Torre was the manager of the 2002 team that ran out of pitchers, resulting in the 7-7 tie after 11 innings.

But there is no denying that the lasting image of the last time the All-Star Game came through the region was Mussina warming up on the Camden Yards JumboTron, while Gaston kept using other pitchers — including his own Blue Jays closer, Duane Ward, to pitch the ninth inning of a 9-3 AL win — and the AL team being booed off the field as the game ended by an angry Camden Yards crowd that had wanted to see Mussina take the mound.

But there were other baseball moments and happenings from 1993 that were noteworthy:

⦁ A 20-year-old intern in the Orioles front office organized a historic Negro League Baseball Forum as part of the FanFest activities, putting the spotlight on the forgotten former Negro League players. That intern was Theo Epstein, who would go on run two of the most iconic franchises in baseball — first as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, winning two World Series, and currently is president of the Chicago Cubs, with one World Series to his credit there.

⦁ The celebrity who won the Celebrity Home Run hitting contest was an NBA star who had arrived at the ballpark early to take extra batting practice against the pitching machine underneath the stands, a star who Reggie Jackson proclaimed had “big league skills.” That NBA star was Michael Jordan, who three months later would announce his retirement from the Chicago Bulls and then go on to pursue a baseball career in the minor leagues for the 1994 season.

⦁ Vice President Al Gore attended the game, and there were Secret Service everywhere, including sharpshooters on the roof. Yet during the fourth inning, an animal rights activist climbed up the center field scoreboard, where a Budweiser advertisement was visible all around the ballpark, and unfurled a banner reading, “August Busch III. Free Willy? Corky! Shamu! Respect God’s Creatures.”

The banner was directed at the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sea World. It was an embarrassing security snafu, considering this activist climbed to such a high part of the ballpark untouched and had a clear view of the box Gore sat in. Two years ago, Sea World announced that it would be phasing out those shows.

⦁ Nationals All-Star Game starter Bryce Harper and his .213 batting average had some company 25 years ago — Cal Ripken, elected to start at shortstop in his hometown for the AL despite his .215 average. Ripken said if the game had not been in Baltimore, he would have considered withdrawing. He received a thunderous ovation from the crowd when he was introduced.

“To have the fans react like that was special,” Ripken told reporters.

What sort of reception will Bryce Harper receive Tuesday night?

⦁ The B&O Warehouse was the star of the Home Run Derby, as left handed batters did their best to hit it. The only one who did — and still to this day, the only known ball to hit the longest building on the East Coast — was Ken Griffey Jr. The ball traveled 445 feet and hit a piece of plexiglass about eight feet up on the building. “When someone does it in game, then it will mean something,” Griffey said. No one has yet.

Check out some of the big bats in that 1993 Home Run Derby contest: Griffey, Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, Bobby Bonilla, David Justice and Mike Piazza.

It’s place in history, though, was sealed by the Mussina-Gaston feud.

Orioles general manager, Roland Hemond, said, “Why you can’t get Mike Mussina into a 9-3 game is beyond me. I don’t care what the explanation is.”

Mussina said he got up to warm up on his own, not to show up Gaston, who said he was saving him for extra innings. But Mussina also reacted to Gaston’s explanation for not using him by saying, “You can make that excuse if you want, but it was a 9-3 game.”

The controversy continued until the Orioles went to Toronto two weeks later, and Mussina apologized to Gaston.

It’s not likely we’ll have the same controversy for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park. Nats pitcher Max Scherzer is expected to start, and Harper was elected by fans as a starter. Their third All-Star, reliever Sean Doolittle, is on the disabled list with a toe injury. The All-Star Game’s return to the area 25 years later will have to go some ways to match its last appearance and its impact.

Thom Loverro’s “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast is available Wednesdays.


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