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Jim Murray

The All-Star Game Doesn't Need a Roof Over Its Head

July 17, 1985|Jim Murray

MINNEAPOLIS — Rats!

I'm getting fed up with All-Star games. That's two years in a row now they let me down.

Listen! They held the 56th All-Star game in a broom closet with basepaths here in Minnesota Tuesday night.

They put the best sluggers in the world in each lineup.

If you know Minneapolis' Metrodome, that's like locking two leopards in a clothes dryer and turning it on, right? I mean, it wasn't going to be a game, it was going to be a bombardment. It was going to set pitching back 50 years. You'd have to cover your eyes. Hope the Humane Society wouldn't raid the place.

It was just going to be kind of complicated batting practice for both teams.

They had a home run-hitting contest in this place Monday and, in a little over an inning and a half, thirty-three homers were hit out of this park.

The fences were so easy to clear, you figured catchers wouldn't be necessary in this game. In fact, infielders might be superfluous. The only thing catching balls would be seats. You might not even need gloves.

In addition to that, not only are the fences close in Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, but the field is a trampoline. The ball doesn't bounce when it hits, it orbits. A ball bounced so high here in the outfield one night that, by the time it came down, the runner had scored an inside-the-park home run. It's not a ball park, it's a rubber room.

Then, there's the roof. It keeps the snow off but unfortunately it violates one of the cardinal rules of ballpark behavior--it interferes with a ball in play. It's a lovely roof but it's too low for major league popups--or even home runs, which it also intercepts.

When's the last time you saw this kind of ground rule in a ballpark spec: "A ball hitting roof or speakers in fair territory, if caught, the batter is out and the runners advance at their own risk"? Or how about: "A ball hitting roof or speakers in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it hits the ground or is touched by a fielder. If the ball is caught by a fielder, the batter is out and runners advance at their own risk"

I mean, what is this, a ball park? Or a haunted house?

Well, you had all these things going for you. Delicious, right? A 14-12 game with funny bounces, the ball disappearing into the folds of the roof and falling out two innings later to be caught by a surprised outfielder. An All-Star game for the books. For Alice in Wonderland.

Well, the ballpark choked. It took the apple. It got shy. Chickened out. Just like the weather in San Francisco last year, it picked this moment to lay an egg.

Would you believe there was not one home run hit? This game could have been played in one of those round ball parks under bright sunlight, on green grass. It was a stinking bore. It was like Billy the Kid going straight, Mamie Stover joining the Salvation Army.

A couple of times, it had its moments. A couple of balls hit by National Leaguers bounced so high, runners were able to stretch long singles into doubles. But those runners usually died on base.

In the fifth inning, the American League's Jim Rice hit a towering foul fly. It soared straight up and would have been caught for an out but it hit the roof. It would have been an easy out but it veered out of play.

The next scene should have had Rice slamming an extra-base hit and a rally into place in the 4-1 game. Instead, he struck out. The ballpark couldn't get into the act. It just didn't have its stuff Tuesday night.

The National League won the game. And the Pope is Catholic and the earth is round and water's wet.

Baseball has come a long way since Mudville. But you would think they could put a roof high enough to where you wouldn't be able to catch a fly ball on the carom and have it count as an out.

Gravity should be the only thing to affect fly balls. The game has left the sunlight and the grass. Baseball should be played in places where breezes blow and rain falls--and so do fly balls.

But there are other sports where external surfaces affect play. Tennis is a different game on slick British grass than on dull adobe. A U. S. Open constructs a Hall of Horrors just to test its best golfers.

So, a lot of us had great hopes for Hubert Humphrey's namesake. We could see balls flying out like popcorn, getting stuck in the lights, disappearing through holes in the roof. In the home run contest Monday, Baltimore's Eddie Murray hit one ball that was just beginning to rise on its way to a 500-foot resting place when it hit a dangling loudspeaker with a thud--and dropped harmlessly into a Texas Leaguer in mid-outfield.

Satchel Paige used to tell a story about the great hitter, Josh Gibson, who hit a ball so high in Pittsburgh one day that it didn't come down, and they called the game. Next day, the troupe moved on to Allentown, where an outfielder suddenly looked up and saw this ball descending. So he caught it. The umpire pointed excitedly to Gibson. "Yer out!" he roared. "Yesterday in Pittsburgh!"

We should have had some plays like that here. It would have been fun and games. Of such stuff is All-Star legend struck.

Alas, the ballpark took the apple. It froze on us.

It's just another game, more's the pity. The park blew it. Detroit is still the home run capital of the All-Star game. Arky Vaughan hit two home runs and Ted Williams one there in 1941. In both 1951 and 1971, All-Stars there hit six home runs in each game.

Now, there's a ballpark that comes through when the chips are down! The Metrodome is a big pussycat. They should serve quiche here. It let a lot of people down. It had its chance and kissed it away. It was the goat of the game.

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