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Mid-Summer Insignificance

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Pete Rose collides with catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Today is the 46th anniversary of one of the most iconic moments in MLB All-Star Game history. On this date in 1970, Pete Rose steamrollered Indians catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning of the annual showdown between stars of the National and American Leagues, giving the NL a 5-4 victory. It was classic Rose. He barreled through Fosse, in what was basically an exhibition game, leaving the Cleveland backstop with a separated shoulder and more bruised feelings than the entire cast of Real Housewives of New York.

Those who watched it remember the moment as a dramatic episode in All-Star—and baseball—history. Back then, the game between the sport’s best was a must-see event, and the TV ratings reflected the interest. In fact, that ’70 game remains the most-watched All-Star contest of all time, producing a 28.5 rating and a 54 share, neither of which has been eclipsed. It’s not as if fans knew Rose was going to flatten Fosse, either. They tuned in because baseball mattered, and the All-Star Game was contested for bragging rights.

It’s not exactly the same these days. Last year, the annual meeting of baseball’s best registered a mere 6.6 rating, the lowest ever, and a 12 share, tied for the worst of all time. Even though the winning league now gets home-field advantage in the World Series, the American public’s appetite for the “Midsummer Classic” has dwindled to that of an 8-year-old forced to eat his Brussels sprouts. Not even the previous evening’s Home Run Derby, which is marred each year by Chris Berman’s obnoxious huckstering and contrived enthusiasm, can inspire fans to watch the main event on Tuesday night.

A side note: Fans of all sports—particularly football and baseball—should be deliriously happy that Berman is leaving ESPN after the upcoming football season. Once considered a bulwark at the network, he has devolved into a caricature, and his departure will cause much joy throughout the kingdom. Let’s just hope someone else doesn’t decide to give him a featured role moving forward. That would be the ultimate bait-and-switch.

Now, back to the All-Star Game: Give baseball credit for hanging on this long with its showcase. The NFL, NBA and NHL games have long since become jokes, to the point where the Pro Bowl might as well be a Madden game played by two fraternity bros on PlayStation. The NBA version is getting more ridiculous every year and practically resembles old-fashioned girls basketball, which featured three players from each team on each side of the court, with none allowed to cross the midcourt line. The embarrassing lack of defense is only matched by the NHL affair, which looks like what might happen if a group of septuagenarians laced up the skates and played a non-contact version of the sport. The Skills Competition has more collisions.

Today’s world, in which practically every game is televised, has removed the mystery of the All-Star Game. When El Hombre attended the ’76 Classic in Philadelphia with The Goon, he was enthralled by the AL uniforms, few of which he’d ever seen, thanks to extremely limited TV options throughout the year. (The all-black White Sox outfits were outstanding.) It was also great to see American League players like Detroit pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski and Minnesota’s Rod Carew.

Today, kids no longer have to wait until July to see the best of the other league. They can watch every game on practically any device imaginable and catch an unending supply of highlights. By All-Star time, it’s all old news—and the ratings prove it.

This is not a call for baseball to end the Classic. El Hombre will certainly tune in. But even if someone from the NL does blow up an American League catcher to score the winning run, it’s unlikely many people will see it—or care about it. That’s too bad.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: A perfect example of how starved Philadelphia fans are for any kind of professional basketball success is the over-the-top coverage of rookie-league games involving the Sixers and top pick Ben Simmons. The team is indeed making strides, but every time somebody in the media starts talking about contention, the basketball cognoscenti wretch. Anybody who paid attention to the later rounds of the playoffs saw that winning basketball requires plenty of top-shelf veterans and a sturdy bench. Despite the excitement generated by Simmons’ arrival, the Sixers don’t resemble a championship contender in any way, shape or form.