The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played in Cleveland for the fifth time in history. The game that brings together the league's biggest stars has evolved from one night under the lights into a five-day festival. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said it's a chance for Cleveland show off its rich baseball past, present and future.
Cleveland hosts the All-Star Game at Progressive Field July 9.
Technically, this will be the sixth time Cleveland has hosted the game, if you count 1911. It wasn't yet called the All-Star Game, but rather an informal contest between The Cleveland Naps and American League stars at League Park. It was a benefit for the family of Cleveland pitcher Addie Joss, who died earlier that year. It raised nearly $13,000.
Cleveland hosted the third All-Star Game in 1935 at Municipal Stadium, drawing a record crowd of nearly 70,000. The Indians had actually moved back to League Park the year before. Then in 1981, the All-Star game signaled the start of the season following a players' strike.
In 1997, Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a two-run homer to lead the American League to a 3-1 victory at Jacob’s Field. Alomar became the first Cleveland Indian ever to win the game's MVP award.
Pluto explained why the All-Star game was thrilling in the past.
"You didn't see the other league's players. They didn't have interleague play like they have now," he said. "I was watching the Indians in the '60s, and I would see Mickey Mantle and the stars in the American League, but it was a big deal to see Willie Mayes and the stars from the National League. Now there's the 'game of the week' every day of the week."
The Indians have three players representing Cleveland: Carlos Santana, who will start at first base, and Francisco Lindor and Brad Hand, who are reserves.
For Santana, it's his first-ever All-Star nod.
"He left via free agency when Philadelphia offered him $60 million for three years. So he went to the Phillies for a year last year, and the Indians made a very complicated trade where basically a lot of the contract is now being paid by Philadelphia and Seattle. So they brought him back for this year and next year," Pluto said.
And he said Santana has always considered Cleveland home.
"He told me in spring training that he never sold his house in Cleveland. That he knew he would come back," he said.
Santana is having one of the best seasons of his career.
"Part of it, I think, is that he's happy about being home, but he also made some adjustments to his swing. I hope he gets a huge ovation from the fans because he deserves it," Pluto said.
Pluto said he likes that the MLB puts its prospects on center stage. The Futures Game this year is switching formats to an AL vs. NL setup after 20 years of pitting a team of U.S. prospects vs. the World.
For Cleveland, outfielder Daniel Johnson and third baseman Nolan Jones will participate. Johnson was acquired from Washington and plays at Triple-A Columbus. Jones is rated No. 43 among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects.
Indians Hall of Famer Jim Thome will manage the AL squad against Dennis Martinez managing the NL.
Recognizing the past
In addition to Thome and Martinez, a number of former Indians stars will return to Cleveland for autograph sessions and other events. Among them is Rocky Colavito.
"Rocky is 85 and has dealt with a lot of health issues," Pluto said. "He was a star with the Indians in the late '50s and early '60s. For about four years he was averaging about 40 home runs. That was when the ball wasn't juiced."
Pluto said a contract dispute over $5,000 ended with Colavito being traded.
"Fans went crazy. They picketed the game when Rocky came back to town," he said. "I ended up writing a book about the Indians of that time called "The Curse of Rocky Colavito" because the last time Rocky played with the team, they never contended again until the middle '90s.
"The All-Star Game is a celebration of Cleveland baseball, along with Major League Baseball," Pluto added.