When the National League and American League teams take the field at Major League Baseball's All-Star Game on Tuesday, the game, as they say in the marketing campaigns, will count; the league whose team wins gains home field advantage in the World Series.
But among fans, MLB struggles to keep the game relevant. Once considered the best among the American sports beauty pageants, the All-Star Game's TV ratings have steadily declined over the years, from an all-time high of 28.5 in 1970 to 9.5 for its fateful 2002 game (more on that later) to an all-time low of 6.8 last year.
Why? What went wrong with baseball's mid-summer classic?
Perhaps it was the dissolution of the American and National leagues as separate entities in 2000, diminishing the pride factor for each side, save for name only. Interleague play, which began in 1997, has also been blamed, reducing the rarity of seeing stars from each league compete against each other.
But 20 years ago, one event, one ballpark, and one city may have led to the demise of baseball's All-Star Game. The 1993 game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the most dramatic 9-3 American League victory the game has ever seen, created a controversy that may have negatively affected the way future managers would approach the All-Star game.
When the American League and National League All-Star teams met on July 13, 1993, Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was the American League skipper, and though he was the home team manager in an American League ballpark, he was in enemy territory. The Orioles-Blue Jays rivalry was hot, with the Orioles chasing the defending World Series-champion Blue Jays in the American League East. Three Toronto players had already been voted to the starting squad by fans, and Gaston named four more of his players to the team, meaning 25 percent of the AL roster consisted of his players. Cal Ripken had been voted to the starting team, and the only other Oriole player selected was pitcher Mike Mussina. Orioles fans cried foul at the roster makeup—and they would do more than that when the game ended.
With the AL leading 8-3 in the seventh inning, Gaston bypassed Mussina and put in Jeff Montgomery. The AL added another run in the bottom of the inning for a 9-3 lead, and Gaston passed over Mussina again, opting instead to go with Rick Aguilera.
As the top of the ninth began, rumblings went through the ballpark. Surely Gaston would give the hometown fans a chance to see Mussina in such a lop-sided game? But Gaston brought in his own closer, Toronto's Duane Ward, to pitch the ninth inning.
The fans booed when they saw Ward come into the game. Then all hell broke loose when Mussina got up to warm up in the bullpen. They showed him warming up on the JumboTron, and the ballpark was filled with chants of "We want Mike."
Gaston, though, had no intention of using Mussina. "I would have put Mussina in the game if it went to extra innings," he told reporters after the game. "But I didn't have any intention of letting him finish the game."
The game ended with a 9-3 AL win and the American League team being booed off the field by the sold-out crowd. Then, as Mussina walked in from the bullpen, he waved to the crowd as they cheered his walk from the bullpen to the clubhouse. It may have been the most bizarre ending in All-Star Game history.
Orioles president Larry Lucchino told reporters after the game he was "outraged." His general manager, Roland Hemond, said, "Why you can't get Mike Mussina into a 9-3 game is beyond me."
Mussina said he got up to warm up on his own, not to show up Gaston, but to get some work for his start the next day. But he 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 furor continued for days. The talk shows in Baltimore were flooded with angry calls targeting Gaston, and kicked off the T-shirt campaign, "Cito Sucks." Orioles announcer Jon Miller declared, "After all the efforts the people of this city put forth this week, to have Cito Gaston do something like this was like he was thumbing his nose at the city of Baltimore."
Gaston said he feared for his safety when he returned to Camden Yards. "Maybe I'll have a shotgun strapped to my leg," he said.
The controversy raged until the Orioles went to Toronto two weeks later, and Mussina apologized to Gaston. But it didn't end there.
In 2002, the All-Star Game crumbled before baseball commissioner Bud Selig's eyes, right in his hometown of Milwaukee. The game ended with the embarrassing scene of Selig conferring with American League manager Joe Torre and National League skipper Bob Brenly after 11 innings of play, a 7-7 tie, and no more players to use. Selig called the game a tie, and the decision rocked baseball.
Selig has insisted that the 2002 All-Star tie debacle 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."
The 1993 All-Star Game changed the way managers handled using players: Fearing that they would suffer the same wrath Gaston did for not using Mussina with the hometown fans looking on, managers were careful to create rotations that could showcase every one of the fans' favorites—leading to the game where they ran out of players.
Today, managers still seem to operate under the premise that they had better get every player in the game, or else face criticism like Gaston did 20 years ago. And the game has suffered for it. So if you're not happy with the state of baseball's All-Star Game, blame it on Baltimore.