The Sad Decline of the MLB All-Star Game Began in 1993

Twenty years ago, a furor erupted in Baltimore when Cito Gaston sat hometown hero Mike Mussina for the entire game. Today, managers have learned their lesson—too well.
1993 all star game 650.jpg
AP / Wilfredo Lee

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."

Presented by

Thom Loverro is the author of 11 books and the co-host of a sports talk-radio show on ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C.

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