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Jim Palmer: Here's how I pitched Willie Mays & others in 1970 All-Star game
3:23 | MLB
Jim Palmer: Here's how I pitched Willie Mays & others in 1970 All-Star game
Tuesday July 12th, 2016

The last time Major League Baseball brought the All-Star Game to San Diego, in 1992, the Bud Selig era hadn't even started. The Twins were the reigning world champions on the strength of Jack Morris's 10-inning shutout gem, Barry Bonds was still the Pirates' homegrown superstar and Roger Clemens was the Red Sox' resident ace. The game's steroid scandal hadn't begun tainting the record books and fans' feelings about the game; there was no wild card and only four divisions; and the expansion Marlins and Rockies had minor league affiliates but no major league rosters.

With lineups and benches stocked with players who have dominated the past decade's worth of Hall of Fame debates, the AL beat the NL, 13–6, in that year's Midsummer Classic held at Jack Murphy Stadium on July 14—a game that happened just 24 years ago but took place in what feels like an entirely different era of baseball history, with the sport on the precipice of some major changes.

The All-Star Game had first been played in San Diego in 1978, when the NL beat the AL for the seventh straight time in a streak that would run to 11 in a row and 19 out of 20 from '63 to '82. Structurally, relatively little had changed in baseball by the time the All-Star Game came back to San Diego 14 years later. In 1992, MLB still had 26 teams in four divisions: two comprised of six teams in the NL, as had been the case since '69, and two made up of seven teams in the AL, bulked up by the expansion Blue Jays and Mariners, who had started play in '77.

You can see more of the game here and here, but alas, not the entirety of it—somebody’s VCR apparently cut off—though Eckersley’s game-ending strikeout of Reds lefty pitcher Norm Charlton (!) is here.

Unlike 2016, the 1992 All-Star Game had no bearing on home field advantage in the World Series; that wouldn't begin until 2003, following the 2002 tie in Milwaukee. The Braves and Blue Jays would meet in October, the first time a Canadian team would reach (and then win) the Fall Classic. The Jays, who led the AL East at the break, would go 96–66, matching the win total of the AL West-winning A's, who trailed the Twins by two games at the break but would win the flag by six, claiming their fourth division title in five years. Toronto beat Oakland in a six-game ALCS, with Roberto Alomar winning MVP honors.

Likewise, the Braves (98–64) would overcome a two-game–first-half deficit to win the NL West by eight games over the Reds, and the Pirates (96–66) held onto their East lead to beat the Expos by nine games. In another seven-game squeaker in the NLCS, Atlanta beat Pittsburgh for the pennant. The Braves won Game 7, 3-2, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth, the last two on a pinch-hit single by little used reserve Francisco Cabrera. The Blue Jays beat the Braves in a tight six-game World Series, with the finale won in 11 innings. The decisive runs scored on a two-run double by future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, an ex-Padre who was snubbed for the All-Star Game three months prior despite being in the midst of a season in which he drove in 108 runs at age 40.

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By the time of the 1992 World Series, changes were afoot that would mark the years of tectonic shifts that followed. Commissioner Fay Vincent had been ousted that summer following an 18–9 no-confidence vote from the owners, who were angry over his intervention into the lockout two years earlier and his admission of the owners' mid-'80s collusion against free agents, which resulted in a $280 million settlement for the aggrieved players. The coup was led by anti-union hardliners Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the White Sox, and Selig, the owner of the Brewers. The Tribune Company, which owned the Cubs, was also at the forefront of the move, in part because Vincent was attempting to realign the NL by swapping the Cubs and Reds over to the NL East, with the Cardinals and Cubs going to the West. Three days after the San Diego All-Star Game, the Cubs sued Vincent to prevent implementation of the plan. Vincent resigned on Sept. 7, with Selig, the chairman of MLB's executive council, taking over, first as acting commissioner (a role he held from 1992 to '98) and then as permanent commissioner ('98–2015).

Change also came quickly for the hosts of that '92 All-Star Game. That year the Padres would win 82 games, their fourth season above .500 in five years, but in '93 owner Tom Werner's infamous salary purge—a series of trades that sent McGriff to the Braves and Sheffield to the Marlins—broke up the club's nucleus. The latter deal brought back a rookie reliever named Trevor Hoffman, who would be part of San Diego’s 1996 NL West championship squad and its '98 pennant winner and would go on to set the all-time saves record. After the 2003 season, the Padres would move out of Jack Murphy Stadium and into Petco Park, where they still reside today.

Elsewhere in 1993, the Marlins and Rockies—two expansion teams created in part to fund that collusion settlement—began play. In 1994, Selig's vision of realignment took hold, and the 28 MLB teams were divided into three divisions in each league, with a wild card joining them in qualifying for the postseason. That new playoff structure went unused until the next season, however: On Aug. 11, the players called a strike over the owners' attempts to implement a salary cap and scrap arbitration, resulting in the cancelation of the rest of the season and the World Series.

After the strike, the game's budding steroid scandal would come to full flower, first in the form of record home run totals by McGwire, Bonds and Sammy Sosa, then peaking in 2005, with the Congressional hearings that pressured baseball into implementing harsher penalties on users and resulted in McGwire’s tearful “I’m not here to talk about the past” non-confession.

It’s safe to say that as the Midsummer Classic returns to San Diego, MLB is on much firmer footing than it was in 1992, with calm on the labor front even as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is being negotiated. And as ballparks go, Petco Park isn’t just an upgrade on the brutalist, multipurpose “Murph;” it’s one of the game’s crown jewels, and an ideal setting for an All-Star Game.

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