Book Review: The Midsummer Classic
Retrosheet and other web-based resources are priceless reference tools. These tools allow you to access the boxscore and play-by-play of every major league game you ever attended or strip-mine decades’ worth of historical data for previously unknown statistics and trends. However, in certain circumstances, they fail to convey the magnitude of certain high-impact events such as playoff tilts or All-Star Games.
Unlike the protagonist of Robert Coover’s creepy The Universal Baseball Association who preferred fantasy baseball to the real thing because “the box scores were enough”, there are many times when I find that box scores are not nearly enough.
While slightly outdated and increasingly hard to find, The Midsummer Classic remains the indispensable reference book and storytelling treasure about the All-Star Game. It was put together by David Smith and David Vincent of Retrosheet and SABR historian Lyle Spatz, and details not only the play-by-play but also behind-the-scenes anecdotes for every All-Star Game from 1933 through 2000. This includes the double All-Star Game years of 1959 through 1962.
While the play-by-play data is the same as what’s available online today, Midsummer Classic excels in two areas where Retrosheet falls short: game stories, and easily accessible leader boards.
Take, for example, this excerpt from their article on the historic 1983 All-Star Game:
The fiftieth anniversary of All-Star competition occurred exactly fifty years to the day after the first game. For this occasion, baseball returned to seventy-three-year-old Comiskey Park as the site of the first game hosted the gala for the third and last time. There were many special celebrations for the game that was originally conceived as a once-in-a-lifetime event.As part of the festivities, ninety former players participated in an Old-Timer’s Game on July 5. Among those present was Lefty Gomez, who started and won the 1933 game. Gomez threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the 1983 All-Star contest while flanked by eleven survivors of the inaugural game. In another tribute, on game day the U.S. Postal Service issued a new twenty-cent stamp in Chicago honoring Babe Ruth, who had homered in that first game.
The excerpt above is a great example of the type of information surrounding the game not available in articles about the game from top-notch websites such as Baseball Almanac.
Similarly, their description of one of the All-Star Game’s more controversial moments, the Pete Rose-Ray Fosse collision in 1970, helps revise conventional wisdom on the subject:
This violent game-ending play has become an enduring part of the story of Pete Rose. It is often written that Rose severely injured Fosse and ended the catcher’s career as an effective player. Although one can certainly argue that Rose was wrong to smash into Fosse the way he did, the claim that Fosse’s career was ruined is simply not supported by the evidence and may best be seen as a myth or a legend. In the short run, Rose suffered much more than Fosse. The collision was on July 14, and Rose did not play again until July 19.On the other hand, Fosse started in Cleveland’s next scheduled game on July 16 and played every game for the next nine days, including a doubleheader on the 24th, in which he caught both games! At the time of the All-Star Game, Fosse was batting .309 in 291 at-bats. He finished the season at .307 in 450 at-bats. His season was cut short by a broken finger on September 3.
In addition to the boxscores, detailed play-by-play, and exhaustively researched game articles, Midsummer Classic also includes a wealth of career All-Star Game leader boards (such as consecutive games played) and single-game record holders (such as most hits allowed by a pitcher in a single game). There’s also an article on the origins and subsequent rise in popularity of the Home Run Derby.
Sadly, this invaluable resource book concludes with the 2000 All-Star Game. More recent games could be resurrected on the Internet, but it’s sure nice to have it all on one’s shelf in a single reference volume. Maybe, these fine authors will consider a second edition to take us through the 2010 game just concluded. One can only hope…
BoB rating: Home Run (even slightly dated, it contains valuable information on nearly 70 years of baseball history!)