The 1992 MLB All-Star Game, the last one held in San Diego, is a window into a different era of baseball—just before the league underwent some massive changes.
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.
In the fall of 1991, fans were treated to a particularly memorable postseason. Led by Bonds, the Pirates won their second of three straight NL East titles under manager Jim Leyland but fell to Bobby Cox's Braves—who had vaulted from an NL-worst 65 wins the year before—in an epic seven-game NLCS. Fueled by homegrown starters Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Atlanta would appear in every postseason played over the next 14 years. In the AL, the Twins had gone from worst to first in the West, then beat the Blue Jays in a five-game ALCS before winning their second World Series in five seasons thanks in large part to Series MVP Morris and homegrown star Kirby Puckett. Thus Cox and Minnesota's Tom Kelly were the managers for the 1992 All-Star squads.
Cox called upon Glavine, the 26-year-old reigning NL Cy Young winner, to start for the NL; at the time, he was 13–3 with a 2.57 ERA. Kelly tabbed the Rangers' Kevin Brown, a 27-year-old righty in the midst of a breakout season, who had gone 13–4 with a 3.14 ERA in the first half. Six years later, he would pitch the Padres to their second NL pennant.
Both leagues' lineups carried plenty of San Diego flavor, not to mention a familial vibe. On the AL side, the Alomar brothers, second baseman Roberto and catcher Sandy Jr.—whose father Sandy played in the majors from 1964 to '78—had both originally been signed by the Padres out of Puerto Rico. Sandy Jr. played just eight games for San Diego in 1988 and '89 before being traded to the Indians in December 1989 in a package for Joe Carter, the AL's starting rightfielder in '92. Roberto played three full seasons for the Padres (1988 to '90) before being sent to the Blue Jays along with Carter in December 1990 in exchange for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez (both of whom made the '92 NL All-Star squad for San Diego—McGriff as a starter, Fernandez as a reserve).
For the NL, starting shortstop Ozzie Smith had been drafted by the Padres in 1977 and played for them from '78 to '81 before being traded to the Cardinals in a six-player swap that helped fuel St. Louis' pennants in 1982, '85 and '87. The 1992 selection marked Smith's 10th straight All-Star starting nod, a record at the time since the voting had been returned to fans 22 years earlier. The presence of rightfielder Tony Gwynn (at that point a four-time batting champion), catcher Benito Santiago (the 1987 NL Rookie of the Year) and first baseman McGriff (who would go on to lead the NL in homers in '92, becoming the first player to do so in each league) marked the first time since '82—when the Expos' Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines started in Montreal—that the host city had placed three starters in the lineup. McGriff was one of just three starters playing in his first All-Star Game that year, along with Brown and reigning NL MVP Terry Pendleton.
There was abundant starpower on both sides: Between the starting lineups and the reserves, there were seven future Hall of Famers on each side: Puckett, Roberto Alomar, Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken Jr. for the AL; and Glavine, Gwynn, Smith, Smoltz, Craig Biggio, Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg for the NL. To that group, you can add seven current candidates (Bonds, Clemens, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith and Larry Walker), one who just fell off the ballot (Mark McGwire, whose 28 first-half homers led the majors in 1992) and one who will be eligible this winter (Ivan Rodriguez). The Alomars, Griffey and Bonds were sons of major leaguers, and Ripken was the son of a longtime coach. Gwynn and NL reserve outfielder Andy Van Slyke fathered future major leaguers, and NL backup catcher Tom Pagnozzi is the uncle of one.
Native San Diegan Ted Williams threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch, but the game itself wasn't competitive. The AL put up four runs in the first against Glavine and chased him in the second with a fifth. Maddux, who would join Glavine in Atlanta that winter after collecting the first of his four straight Cy Young awards, served up a solo homer to Griffey in the third, and the AL added four more runs in the sixth against Bob Tewksbury, running the score to 10–0. The NL finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth, but the AL furthered its lead to 13–1 in the eighth. The NL scraped together the final five runs of the game late: Will Clark hit a three-run homer off Rick Aguilera in the bottom of the eighth, and Bip Roberts stroked a two-run single off Eckersley in the ninth.
In all, the AL rapped out 19 hits and scored 13 runs; the former set a record that would be matched by the AL in 1998 when the game was played in the thin air or Denver's Coors Field; the latter figure tied a record set by the AL in '83 (and also matched in '98). Griffey, who went 3 for 3 with a double, a homer, two runs scored and two RBIs, was named the game's MVP.
If you want to relive the game (or most of it, anyway), here's a video of its first hour:
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.
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.