As the sports seasons inexorably meld—baseball into football, football into basketball and hockey, basketball and hockey into baseball—the fan who pays fealty to them all inches ever closer to terminal disorientation. This condition has never been more apparent than it was last week, when the baseball and football All-Star Games were played only three days apart. Was that Henry Aaron who blocked the field goal? Roger Staubach who pitched two scoreless innings? Big Bob Lilly behind the plate for the Nationals? Little Joe Morgan at wide receiver for the Cowboys? Who, in fact, were all those people, and what season is this, anyway?
To add to the already abundant confusion, there were some real similarities between the two games. Relief pitchers, for example, won them both—Tug McGraw for baseball's National League and Craig Morton for football's Dallas Cowboys. The losing baseball manager, Baltimore's Earl Weaver, started Jim Palmer from his own team over another pitcher, Mickey Lolich, whom many, including Lolich, considered more deserving. The same might be said for the losing football coach, Bob Devaney, who preferred his own passer, Jerry Tagge, to Auburn's Pat Sullivan, the eventual All-Star star in a losing cause.
And, as always, in both games there were those who did not particularly want to play, but did, and those who desperately wanted to play, but did not. Such is life among the stars.
No matter really, for the fans, both at the scene and in front of television sets, watched in great numbers. The baseball game attracted 53,107 to Atlanta Stadium, the football game 54,162 to Chicago's Soldier Field. And despite their understandable bewilderment, they were reasonably entertained as the National League defeated the American League 4-3 and the Cowboys took the College All-Stars 20-7.
The baseball game was easily the more esthetically pleasing. Henry Aaron hit what was almost the game-winning home run before his hometown fans, although the contest was not actually won until Morgan singled home Nate Colbert in the 10th inning. Again, no matter. Aaron was the All-Star in Atlanta.
There were few heroes in Chicago as the professionals once again dominated the game, although Sullivan's late-inning—er, last-quarter—passing (8 for 15) did pick things up. Game honors, however, belonged to Craig Morton, who came out of the...well...bullpen to replace an injured Roger Staubach and throw two touchdown passes. Staubach, the Super Bowl wizard, did not remember much of the game after he got conked on the head in the second quarter.
"Apparently I didn't do very well," he acknowledged later. "I understand we were ahead only 3-0 when I left."
It is hard for anybody to remember much, since it seemed as if one game—baseball?—had no sooner ended when the other one—football?—started.
This convergence of the stars is probably inevitable, what with the trespassing seasons. In fact, it may come to pass that, after 38 years of separate but more or less equal existence, the two games will be played on the same night. Or it may happen that the football game will back up right past the baseball game into an earlier date. As it is, the baseball game has gotten later and the football game earlier. Last week they were the closest together they have ever been.
Time was when the games were at least a month apart. The first football game, in 1934, was played on Aug. 31, nearly two months after the July 10 baseball game of that year. And in eight different years, including 1953 through 1957, they were played exactly one month apart.
The blame for the new togetherness must lie with football, for it has changed the most. In the beginning the College All-Star Game was to be a test of the nation's best varsity players, against the professional champions. Many of the collegians had no professional aspirations; they were just out there giving it the old try. Now the game is merely a contest between the pros and an all-rookie professional team. Interesting, but different.
The modern pro team starts training camp in July. It can ill afford to lose prize newcomers in mid-August for a game, worthwhile as it may be to charity, that is nevertheless something of an inconvenience. So the pros—and the rookies themselves—want it out of the way as soon as possible.
Since 1961 the game has never been played later than Aug. 7. The last three have all been in July, and last Friday's was the earliest yet.
Baseball prefers to take its All-Star break sometime after the Fourth of July. The game has been played as late as July 31, but that was in 1961 when it was the second of two; no single game has been so tardy as Tuesday's.
Arch Ward, the late sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, who founded both games, might well be appalled at this new concentration of star power. It would surely offend his keen sense of timing. Ward was no journalist in the ordinary sense; he was a clever administrator and a demon promoter. Short, spare, bespectacled and bald, speaking with a slight impediment, he could have passed for a small-town pharmacist. And though he preferred to think of himself as a sharp dresser, he invariably wore baggy pants.
But he was a powerful and influential editor, and when, in 1933, he suggested that his newspaper sponsor an All-Star baseball game as a means of attracting attention to Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition, he was given free rein to organize the event.
At first, he met some opposition from the rockbound baseball hierarchy—the game would be a meaningless interruption, it was thought—but he persisted, and on July 6 in Comiskey Park, before a crowd of 47,595, the first interleague All-Star Game was played. It was an unqualified success. John McGraw managed the National League, Connie Mack the American. Fittingly, the game was won by the Americans 4-2 on a two-run home run by Babe Ruth, then 38 and nearing the end of his fabulous career.
It was a one-shot promotion, but baseball was so enamored of Ward's idea it adopted the game as its own from then on. It was just as well, for as one Tribune colleague of Ward's said, "Arch wouldn't walk across the street to see a baseball game."
Football was really his game so, flushed with his 1933 baseball success, Ward set about organizing a gridiron counterpart. The football All-Stars would be selected by the fans, polled by the Tribune and cooperating newspapers. This system survived until 1943, when the promoters decided, as the 1972 program put it, that "such polls have deteriorated into popularity contests. The players who win are those who...usually come from the localities with the largest telephone book." Now the coaches themselves merely skim the cream from the rookie crop. Baseball, however, abides by the decision of the electorate.
The first football All-Star Game, played in Soldier Field with such collegiate deities as Beattie Feathers and Moose Krause opposing the Chicago Bears, attracted 79,432 spectators. The game was not an artistic success, ending in a scoreless tie. But there was obviously something there worth keeping, and the Tribune—or more properly, the Chicago Tribune Charities Inc.—never let it go. Ward personally orchestrated it until his death in 1955. There is speculation that, had he lived longer, he might have altered the format somewhat, for it is said he foresaw the superiority the professionals have achieved: 28 victories against only nine losses and two ties. That last collegiate success was in 1963.
What Ward might not have anticipated is the ambivalence felt today by All-Stars in both of his creations. It is an honor to be selected, many of them conclude, but a terrible bother to show up and actually play. And the injury risk haunts both the players and their employers.
The players' position in this regard was candidly articulated by St. Louis' Bob Gibson just after he was named the National League's starting pitcher. That's all very nice, said Gibson in so many words, but if I pitch in the All-Star Game it might foul me up for my regular start later in the week.
"It's really not that important who wins an All-Star Game," said he, sending chills through the game's promoters. "All I want to do is pitch one inning."
Gibson pitched two innings, both scoreless; then on Friday in his next regular start he was beaten 3-1 by Montreal. A point well made?
Perhaps. But then how can the Mickey Lolich approach to the game be explained? Lolich, a pitcher who labored too long in obscurity, was angry because he was not named to start the game for the American League. He was, he explained, the winningest pitcher in baseball, and if 17 victories did not qualify him to start, what did?
Perhaps those who have been selected often see the game as only another cross they must bear on the pathways of fame. "Sure, it's an honor," said one American League star who asked anonymity, "but the bat gets heavy this time of year. I'd rather have the time off."
There are also those who feel the game offers an opportunity to prove a point. Henry Aaron would seem to have nothing left to prove, but his All-Star average had been only .186. His sixth-inning home run driving in Cesar Cedeno (page 42) and the accompanying minutes-long ovation from the Atlanta crowd was, in this superstar's opinion, "the greatest thing that's ever happened to me."
Then, too, there is McGraw, a mere relief pitcher, the sort American League Manager Earl Weaver habitually overlooks in favor of more widely acclaimed starters. McGraw and others of his calling saw in his victory a vindication. Weaver's disdain for relievers is, to them, an outrage.
"We have a kind of union," McGraw explained after his finest innings. "We relievers like to think of ourselves as playing a 10th position on the field. We are happy this is recognized in the National League."
The football All-Star Game was also a proving ground of sorts. For the first time in 18 years a major college coach, Devaney of Nebraska, would test the professionals. And Devaney would have his own coaching staff and his own quarterback. At issue was not so much the coach but a system—the option series, in which the quarterback cruises the line of scrimmage in search of vulnerability, either keeping the ball himself or pitching out to a trailing back after an initial fake into the line.
Despite the enormous success this offense has brought Nebraska and other college teams, the professionals have all but ignored it on the premise that, by its very nature, it endangers the highest-priced player on the team. This unwillingness to innovate has opened the pros to considerable criticism. Devaney, the most successful college coach, would show them the error of their conservative ways.
"At one time," Devaney said before the game, "the colleges were playing the controlled type of game. Now it is just the reverse."
Controlled or no, the Dallas defense made a mockery of the option. Only twice, when Tagge ran for 17 yards at the beginning of the game and for 15 at the start of the second half, did it work at all, and both of those gains were the result of missed Cowboy assignments. Said Tagge: "They stopped it cold."
"The option," said a philosophical Devaney, "will not revolutionize professional football."
So what else do these All-Star games prove? That college kids cannot beat proven professionals? That the American League is the college league of baseball?
The management point of view, at least, was summed up satisfactorily at the football game by Al Davis, who runs the Oakland Raiders. Asked if he was impressed by the performance of his rookies in the game, Davis thought a moment. Then, smiling broadly, he said: "The truth is, we're just happy when they come out of this alive."