The All Star Game was scheduled for this Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Like virtually everything else in sports, Covid-19 took care of it.
Going back, baseball fans loved it. In days before every game anywhere was available somewhere – generally at our fingertips – the Al Star Game was a glittering bargain each July. Think of whom you saw on one field and in a few gripping hours: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Don Drysdale. I think you get the point.
For decades, the ASG was played during the day. Youngsters didn’t miss it. They didn’t even have to miss school to see it. The share of viewers who had their televisions on and were watching the game was staggering. In the 1960s, the share of the ASG’s audience averaged about 50%.
In 1967, the summer classic went to primetime. Was baseball popular? You better believe it. Get this. In 1966, the ASG in St. Louis was the last one scheduled during the day. It produced 12 million viewers. Moving to primetime the following summer produced 55 million for the carrying network, NBC.
There’s more that might help explain why baseball today lags football and basketball. The matchup in Anaheim that 1967 night went 15 innings, the longest ASG to that point. It lasted 3:41. In 2008, the ASG again extended 15 frames. But this time it took 4:50.
Fifty years ago this summer with Curt Gowdy at the NBC mic, the ASG did a whopping 28.5 rating, an all-time high. Who could have projected what was to come? Last year, the ASG did an all-time low, a sad 5.0 rating.
And so it is. Lots have happened since 1933 when the ASG was introduced in Chicago and here are some year-by-year highlights.
Memorable All-Star Games and broadcasts
First ever ASG, carried by NBC and CBS Radio; America’s first radio announcer and popular personality Graham McNamee had the NBC call
Three radio networks, NBC, CBS and Mutual, do the ASG through 1940. Big names calling the event in those years included Red Barber, Mel Allen and Bob Elson
Mutual gets the exclusive radio rights and it retained it through 1956
It being the first summer of World War II, two ASGs are played, one at Yankee Stadium and the second in Cleveland to support the war effort
With the war raging, broadcasters were engaged in the military effort. Boxing voice Don Dunphy, older at this point than other voices, is assigned the ASG and he’s joined by football voice Bill Slater
The All-Star Game is cancelled by request of the Office of Defense Transportation during the final year of the war
Mel Allen would do the next six on radio and then the following nine on NBC TV
First ASG on network TV, on NBC. It was played in Chicago and ran on 48 affiliated stations. Chicago’s Jack Brickhouse was the announcer.
On NBC with Brickhouse and Jim Britt presiding, the telecast does a 27.3 rating and an eye popping 89 share! Remember there weren’t as many television sets then but 89% of those that were turned on, were tuned to the ASG.
With Mel Allen and Jack Brickhouse on the call from Philadelphia, it’s the first ASG that was run coast-to-coast. The game is shortened by rain
NBC gets the radio rights to the summer classic. Harry Caray and Bob Neal call the game which was played in St. Louis
MLB begins a four year stretch where it played two ASGs each summer. Vin Scully works with Allen in the second ASG, the one played at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was Scully’s first ASG on TV. He would do his first on radio in 1977. Surprisingly, only 55,105 were in the Coliseum which held up to 90,000. Curt Gowdy joined Mel for the first ASG that summer in Pittsburgh.
Russ Hodges and Curt Gowdy work the first game in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. The smallish park attracts 30,619. The second game was played at Yankee Stadium and gets a less than capacity 38,362. Scully and Allen were on the TV call. On radio in the Bronx that day were the Commander Bob Elson and Waite Hoyt, the ace of the 1927 Yankees’ pitching staff. That club is often considered the best in baseball history. In 1960, Hoyt was the longtime Voice of the Cincinnati Reds
Joe Garagiola gets his first ASG assignment, joining Gowdy in Boston in the second of the two games. But it was cancelled after nine innings because of rain. It ended up a 1-1 tie. On NBC Radio, Harwell bid his audience goodbye from the “roof at Fenway Park.” Hodges and Allen who paired for three years on Yankees’ broadcasts in the 1940s did the first ASG that summer on NBC TV.
Allen works his last ASG, joining Garagiola who also ended up replacing Mel with the Yankees in 1965. Gowdy and Scullly would team for the second of the two ASGs that summer , a 9-4 AL win at Wrigley Field
The ASG is played at brand new Shea Stadium. The World’s Fair was also an attraction that summer right next door. to Shea. The Voice of the Mets and previously longtime NBCer Lindsey Nelson joined Buddy Blattner on the Peacock telecast
The ASG in Minneapolis is called by Jack Buck and Garagiola. Buck, then number two behind Harry Caray in St. Louis, gets the nod from NBC. Buck would do two more in 1990 and ‘91 for CBS
This is the last ASG scheduled in the afternoon. It was a sweltering hot day in St. Louis and NBC had to place ice on some of its cameras to prevent them from overheating
Jim Simpson, the number two sports voice at NBC behind Curt Gowdy, does the next nine ASGs on radio. His partners were first Tony Kubek, later Sandy Koufax and then Maury Wills
The All Star game goes primetime in the east where it began at 7pm. It made a major difference. Some 55 million watched it on NBC. The year before, the afternoon contest in St. Louis was viewed by 12 million. The first shown in prime was a marathon. The Reds’ Tony Perez homered in the top of the 15th to give the NLers a 2-1 win. It was the longest ASG in history until matched in 2008.
Although it was scheduled for the night of July 22nd, heavy rains forced its postponement until the next afternoon, July 23d. A big baseball fan, President Richard Nixon planned to attend the ASG but because of the delay, he had to leave for the splashdown of Apollo 11 which carried the three astronauts on the moon mission, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins (didn’t step foot on lunar surface) and Buzz Aldrin. Vice President Spiro Agnew represented him at the game which was won by the NL, 9-3.
The lower rating in ’69 reflected the absence of a substantial audience during the workday:
Year/ASG Rating Share
1967 25.6 50
1968 25.8 49
1969 5.1 42 (Postponed to afternoon due to rain)
1970 28.5 54
Running its third game in primetime, NBC does the highest rating ever for an ASG, 28.5. Gowdy, Kubek and guest analyst Mickey Mantle were at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati
On NBC, the National League wins in Atlanta, running off the first of 11 straight wins over the AL. Gowdy and Kubek called it
This was ABC’s first year as an MLB rightsholder. The Gunner, Bob Prince, was the network’s lead voice. Warner Wolf and Bob Uecker joined him at Veterans Stadium in Philly. Prince’s provincial style was a big hit in Pittsburgh but it wasn’t popular nationally
CBS Radio gets MLB’s national package. Through 1997, the lead voices would include Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Brent Musburger, Jerry Coleman and John Rooney
Keith Jackson does play-by-play. He would do three in all, splitting his next two with Al Michaels. Keith’s partners were Howard Cosell and Don Drysdale. Cosell would do four ASGs
Al Michaels shares play-by-play with Keith Jackson. Al would do six ASGs in all, four alone and two shared with Jackson.
MLB suffers a prolonged labor stoppage. Once it’s settled, the schedule begins with the ASG in Cleveland. On radio, Vin Scully was the refreshing and warm voice welcoming fans back to baseball. Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek call it on NBC TV. There was an irony. Cleveland baseball hardly drew in those days. Yet that night, 72,086, the largest crowd to ever attend an ASG saw it in person. The NL won its tenth straight summer classic, 5-4
For NBC, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola are in the broadcast chairs at Comiskey Park in Chicago when the AL breaks an 11 game losing streak to the NL, 13-3. Vin might have said, “They finally broke the shackles of a galling slump.”
Joining Al Michaels on ABC, Tim McCarver serves as analyst for the first time. He would do 24 ASGs in all between 1986 and 2013
Vin Scully does his last ASG on television. Now private citizen, ex-president Ronald Reagan joins Scully in the booth in Anaheim during the first inning
CBS TV owned MLB rights for four seasons and reportedly lost tons of dough with the package. The game had an approximately 68-minute rain delay. In the meantime, the network aired Rescue 911. Jack Buck and McCarver were on the call
Buck was replaced by Sean McDonough as CBS’ lead MLB voice. He does the first of two ASGs with McCarver
After hosting four ASGs earlier, Bob Costas calls the first of four summer extravaganzas. Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker were his partners that night. This was on the short-lived The Baseball Network and it ran on NBC
Joe Buck does his first ASG, partnering with McCarver. The AL wins 3-1 at beautiful and contained Jacobs Field in downtown Cleveland. The NL wouldn’t win an ASG again until 2010. The 2002 ASG in that 13-year stretch resulted in a tie
ESPN Radio gets the rights and the play-by-play broadcasters since have been Charley Steiner, Dan Shulman and Boog Sciambi who’s done the last ten
In Seattle on Fox, it was the last time the ASG did a double digit rating an 11.0. AL wins 4-1 with Buck and McCarver presiding in booth
In somewhat of an embarrassing moment for MLB, the ASG was called after 11 innings. It ended in a 7-7 tie at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Commissioner Bud Selig determined that the teams were out of players and a continuation of the game could result in unwanted injuries
The ASG winner earns its member team home-field advantage for the World Series. This would continue through 2016. Beginning in 2017, the team with the better regular season record got home field advantage for the fall Classic
The game was won by the AL 4-3 in 15 innings. This 15-inning game took 4:50 to play versus the earlier 15 inning ASG in 1967 which took just 3:41. The world moves quicker and baseball moves slower
The National League breaks through after 13 failed ASGs, winning in Anaheim 3-1 with Joe Buck and McCarver commenting for Fox
Joe Buck works his 19th straight ASG and 21st overall. The ASG does its lowest rating ever, a 5.0 on Fox
The scheduled ASG for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles is cancelled due to Covid-19. The cancellation is only the second since the game was introduced in 1933. The other was the final year of the war in 1945
Atlanta’s Sun Trust Park is scheduled to host the ASG
The ASG will be played in Dodger Stadium