All-Star Memories & Respect

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By: Al Hudson-July 17, 2008

dp logo1It was described as the greatest collection of players in one spot in the history of baseball. Perhaps, but the occasion fell short of matching the similar ceremony before the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park, when baseball honored the All-Century team. That night could have only been topped had the players entered the ballpark through a cornfield.

Despite the many Hall of Famers who took the field Tuesday night, the ceremony was notable for its many absences. Where was Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk or Carl Yastrzemski? The highlight of the 1999 event was the appearance of the since deceased Ted Williams. The mere presence of “The Splendid Splinter” brought tears to the eyes of many an old timer.

The absolute sham of the 2008 festivities was the eerily similar appearance of George Steinbrenner at Tuesday’s event. Resplendent in his tailored blue suit, Steinbrenner does not deserve to be on the field with the greats that were present to represent what is right with baseball. This owner was twice banned from baseball, and is generally reviled outside of New York. His appearance did not have the same emotional tug as Teddy Ballgame’s last national public appearance.

For the Hall of Famers that were present, this was a special day for them. While the current All-Stars were clearly in awe of their forefathers, the Old Timers were equally in awe of their present day heroes.

Brooks Robinson said earlier in the day that Derek Jeter was his favorite player to watch, “but I have never met him. Maybe I will, tonight”. When Jeter was introduced as the starting American League shortstop, Robinson made a point of introducing himself to Jeter on the field.

The opening ceremony was a tear-filled tribute to yesterday’s superstars. Many of them stars of my childhood, that brought back a lifetime of memories. I am not ashamed to say I shed tears for my heroes. Most of them were men of honor, and my respect for them is meaningful. I must admit that I was disappointed that I did not see any present day stars remove their caps in respect when meeting the Hall of Famers. Tiger Woods has a fitting tribute to all his opponents by removing his cap in victory or defeat in respect. The masters of our great game deserve the respect of all who now follow. The Hall of Famers paid the dues for today’s stars.

Pitchers that I tried to emulate included Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Bob Feller, and Steve Carlton among others were the first to grace our television screens. Toronto ace Roy Halladay enjoyed the experience, “A lot of guys, a lot of history. Just being on the same field with these guys is an honor. I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs and Robinson were warmly embraced by both Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones when introduced as starters. Jones, however, felt a sense of remorse as he stood, once again, on the hallowed ground that his idol Mickey Mantle patrolled back in “the day.”  “Being here with the “Mick’ is the only thing missing for me,” said Jones.

An illustrious group of shortstops led by Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, and the immortal “Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks” greeted Jeter and his counterpart Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins.I can only imagine the goose bump reaction of meeting these true stars of the game was for Ramirez.

There were numerous outfielders present but none more respected than Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Mays, considered by most as the most complete player to don a major league uniform, received the loudest ovation of any non-Yankee. I thought it only fitting that he stood alone in centerfield. The New York crowd fittingly paid homage to not only the greatest centerfielder, but the greatest Giant of all-time.

If not for Mays, then Aaron might be considered the greatest living ball player. Even a partisan Yankee crowd paid tribute to Aaron with a tremendous ovation. I think that somehow that recognition was a positive response to his accomplishments. To the true fan, Aaron’s records were tainted by Barry Bonds, and Aaron is the true home run king even in New York, even in the House that Ruth Built.

It was obvious that any former Yankee in attendance would receive a tremendous ovation. It was fitting that Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, was the last player to be introduced. Berra, probably the most revered Yankee alive, is the epitome of the true everyday man. Undersized, pudgy, and with an affinity for bollixing the King’s English, Berra represents what each and every one thought we could do. Play Major League Baseball. A dream we perpetuated every day on the sandlots of our youth.

With this being the last season at Yankee Stadium, Tuesday’s eagerly awaited pregame ceremony was billed as the greatest in the history. However, that distinction must have been anytime Babe Ruth walked on to that field.

I have been very fortunate to have met a few of the stars of the game, Tommy LaSorda, Ken Griffey, Jr, George Brett, Tommy John, Greg Maddux, and Bobby Cox. Each, in his own way, represents the game.

Tommy John is deserving of the Hall of Fame, and I hope he gets in. He is a true gentleman of the game.

Junior Griffey, who recently hit his 600th home run will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. It was a shame that the National League couldn’t find a way to place Griffey on the All-Star team. As a fan, I would have loved to have seen him participate.

George Brett is the man we all should meet. Many years ago, Brett scouted a player that I coached. During the pregame infield, Mr. Brett and I were standing by the fence near third base. Imagine if you can, the pressure on my third baseman taking ground balls. After he had misplayed a couple, Mr. Brett quietly said to me, “Tell him he can breathe now, it’s all right.” He had a similar experience when playing in high school and George Kell was watching him. He understands the game, but more importantly, he understands life. How I wish I could be more like George Brett.

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