Major League Baseball’s (MLB) All-Star Game (ASG) will be held at Coors Field in Denver on July 13, 2021. The MLB announced in April that it would relocate the game from Atlanta to Denver in response to Georgia’s controversial new voter law, bringing the game back to Denver for the first time since 1998.
Tom Zeiler is a professor of U.S. diplomatic history who co-teaches a popular course called "America Through Baseball" and has authored three books on the sport. He spoke with CU Boulder Today about the history of the All-Star Game, the role of politics in baseball and the significance of the game returning to Denver.
Coors Field in Denver (Photo credit: Pixabay)
When was the All-Star Game created? Why?
There were “All-Star” games going back to 1858, before the Civil War, played in New York between Brooklyn and New York teams. But, the modern All-Star Game began in 1933, in the depth of the Great Depression, when baseball was struggling financially. It was linked to the Chicago World’s Fair, so it was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 6, 1933. Many owners opposed the game due to the strain it put on players, but there was still decent support. In the first game, Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean captained their teams. Ruth hit the first All-Star Game home run and the American League won 4-2.
Interestingly, managers selected the teams in the early games—fans could vote but were not given decision-making power. That changed in 1947, when fans got to select teams. But, the flurry of late votes changed selections so quickly that in 1957, both fans and managers selected the teams together. The vote eventually returned to the fans in 1970 where it has been ever since.
Have there been any major changes in baseball since the All-Star Game was last held at Coors Field in 1998?
The game’s rules have changed a lot recently: double-headers are settled in 7 innings, not 9, and extra innings start with a runner on second to speed things up. There have also been some significant cheating scandals in recent years, like when the Astros stole signals in the 2017 World Series. Interestingly, there has been no expansion of the league in 23 years, but there are rumors that new teams will be added very soon.
How do you think Denver’s high altitude will affect the game?
The last All-Star game held in Denver saw the highest score in the game’s history, 13-8, which confirmed the altitude advantage for hitters in Colorado! But, the Rockies have historically kept their baseballs in a humidor to prevent them from getting dried-out, carrying farther and driving up scores. Still, this is the All-Star game, in which pitchers don’t care as much and hitters look forward to smacking home runs, so the altitude difference will make for a great game.
What were the biggest repercussions of the MLB’s decision to relocate the ASG from Atlanta to Denver?
The repercussions were largely positive, as baseball—late to the Black Lives Matter movement when compared to basketball and football—moved the game to Denver. The commissioner and MLB earned a lot of kudos from civil rights organizations and politicians. The Atlanta Braves, though, played to their base and expressed disappointment rather than solidarity with the movement. Atlanta’s lost revenue in tourist dollars is upwards of $100 million for hotel rooms, restaurants and transportation, so Denver will definitely benefit financially.
Has baseball historically taken stands against racial injustice?
In 1947, baseball integrated the game with Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB in the modern era. However, the MLB was also one of the first institutions to segregate in the 1880s. Baseball has largely shied away from the campaign for racial justice, likely a reflection of tradition and the number of white players when compared to football and basketball. In less than a year, though, the MLB clearly turned around and embraced the campaign, as many teams and players protested George Floyd’s murder.
MLB has been cracking down on pitchers “doctoring” the baseball. Why have these guidelines changed in recent years?
The campaign to cut back on pitchers doctoring the baseball goes back to 1920, when there was a ban placed on “spitballs.” After the ban, pitchers who wanted to increase the spin or rotation of the ball to make it unhittable had to find new and innovative ways to doctor the ball. They would find foreign substances like adhesives, they’d nick the ball with a belt buckle or sand it down with an emery board. So, this crackdown on pitchers, and pitchers’ resourcefulness, has been a long time coming.
This year, hitting averages are down, with the league recording the highest strikeout rates and lowest batting averages ever. Of course, this might be due to many batters swinging for the fences, focusing on home runs over hitting, which leads to more strikeouts. But, now that there is a crackdown, some players have already been exposed and public dissent is growing.
Baseball was once considered America’s game. Do you think baseball still plays a central role in American culture?
Baseball still is a reflection of American culture and history, but also of global culture because there are so many foreign players in the league. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think baseball is still the national pastime—Mom and apple pie are still up there in popularity, but baseball has fallen well behind football, and likely basketball, as the focus of American sports.
Still, it is generating robust revenues and is, above all, still part of the tradition of summer—of going out to a ballgame on a warm summer evening and eating a hotdog and Cracker Jacks. It is still a quintessentially American sport—weird, unique and idiosyncratic, just like America itself!