How did baseball botch its tribute to Willie Mays?

The All Star Game has become Bud Selig's folly, but this was bad even for Selig.


Joan Walsh
July 11, 2007 5:25PM (UTC)

With King Kaufman on vacation, someone had to cover the All Star Game, and, well, I'm here in San Francisco. I didn't get press credentials; Salon gets turned down by benighted Major League Baseball decision makers every year, and we didn't try this time. They're still credentialing newspapers with about a thimble of our traffic, but that's fine. We're not bitter. It helps explain all the Flomax ads.

I actually had tickets, but I sold them. I share season tickets with close friends, and we dumped the All Star Game because it was so expensive -- almost twice as much as our 2002 World Series tickets -- and the Giants forced us to pay for a bunch of faux events nobody cared about that more than doubled the already ridiculous price. Including the Home Run Derby, which is an especially silly exercise in a pitchers' park like ours, regardless of San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan's criticizing Barry Bonds for skipping it. Most owners would respect their 43-year-old star's decision to conserve his strength for the season, but since Magowan's strategy has long been to beggar the team for the distractions of Bonds' home-run chase and baubles like the All Star Game, I guess he had to be angry. So I was not ready for the party, especially a party I had to pay for.

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But I had a twinge of sadness as I watched the crowds head out along the Embarcadero to AT&T park Monday afternoon, so I walked out to watch batting practice. And I had a moment of gratitude to Magowan for the ballpark's best feature b

Then I went home and watched the game from my living room with a group of die-hard baseball-fan friends, and my great friends aside, it was all downhill from my portwalk experience. I got home in time to watch the Willie Mays tribute with Gary Kamiya and a box of Kleenex. But sadly, it wasn't needed; the Mays tribute was desultory and disappointing. As he drove around the park in his pink Cadillac (!) Fox cut away to an ad for the new Kelsey Grammer sitcom. Unforgivable. The poignant Ted Williams tribute from 1999 is part of what keeps me tuning in to the All Star Game year after year; this one -- why bother? Can Bud Selig understand that this game is not about the idiotic Home Run Derby; it's about history? And since Mays is the best living player, probably the best in history, he deserved much better? My 1999 interview with the San Francisco Giants star still haunts me because it ended badly, but even a bad Mays interview is fascinating, and for all Fox's uneasy hoopla about Mays being baseball's first black superstar, I found myself thinking baseball still doesn't know what to do with him. He deserved much, much better. What a bust.

Then there's Mays' godson, Barry Bonds. I felt the Mays tribute was muted at least partly because if it was really done right, it would have featured Bonds directly, and Major League Baseball was clearly uneasy about celebrating this year in Barry's house. If King were here, he'd know exactly the right thing to say about Fox's Jeanne Zelasko, who was unbearably snotty about Bonds in the pregame show. Why does Jeanne Zelasko get to be snotty about Barry Bonds? But let me not be sexist; why do so many tedious unworthy men get to be snotty about Barry Bonds? Still, at times like that I find myself thinking: Why hasn't feminism produced a woman paid by sports networks who's worth listening to about baseball? Why hasn't baseball? That's probably another post.

Jeanne Zelasko aside, Bonds drew the hometown love, and at my house, we all loved seeing it. I also enjoyed the surly superstar's charm offensive this weekend. He asked the question I've been asking watching away games on TV: How many of the fans booing him are also snapping the photos flashing as you hear the boos? How does that work? It's gotta hurt, right?

I was saddened when Bonds' long drive ended on the warning track. But Ichiro's inside-the-park home run was a thrilling homage to my gorgeous, crazy stadium, even though I'm a National League fan. That's what we'll all remember from this year's event. And sure, OK, the American League wins again, 5-4, despite a National League 9th inning surge. No surprise, if you looked at the lineup. And really, who cares, it's just a wild exhibition game. Oh, but right, anyone whose team is in the running for post-season play has to care. (But luckily, that's not me!)

When we all look back, Bud Selig's snit over the tied 2002 All Star Game, which led to the idiotic decision to give World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the meaningless July contest, will be one of his lamest moves. This is an increasingly tawdry exhibition game driven by every imaginable consideration -- represent all teams! enthusiastic but uneven hometown voting! player popularity! -- besides how to assemble a winning team-for-a-day, and Selig's edict to make it matter in fact undermines it. Those Flomax ads started to scare me by the end. I'm not afraid of getting old; we all will if we're lucky. But if that's baseball's demographic, somebody's making some dead-end decisions. San Francisco looked pretty on TV Tuesday night; baseball, not so much.

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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