By Joe Rini
Did you miss the All-Star Game this week? Don’t worry, there’s practically an All-Star game every day in 2023. Like an All-Star Game, a game with multiple pitchers pitching short stints shouldn’t be hard to find. Yet, from a pitching perspective, today’s daily boxscores resemble the boxscore of a 1960s-era All-Star Game. Watching four pitchers wind their way through nine innings today, even in a low-scoring game, conjures up images of All-Star Games past, albeit without the multiple future Hall of Famers.
All-Star Game Every Day
A game in 2023 typically sees at least three pitchers get through nine innings. Complete games are rare and there’s usually a setup man between the starter and the closer. For instance, a glance at the 15 boxscores from a week ago on July 7 shows only three games where a team used two pitchers across nine innings. Contrast that with a look at the similarly spaced Friday before the All-Star game in 1969. On July 18, 1969, there were 14 games played (two doubleheaders), and eight of the 14 winning teams featured completed game victories.
Therefore, watching the NL or AL All-Star teams use four pitchers to get through nine innings resembles the current game in that sense. The innings distribution varied because the ASG starter would only go three innings but the subsequent “relievers” (who were invariably starting pitchers) would also pitch two 0r even three innings. For example, from a New York Mets fan’s perspective, it was a typical day at the office when Tom Seaver opened the historic 1970 All-Star Game with three scoreless innings. Five years later, his teammate Jon Matlack picked up the victory and co-MVP honors with two scoreless innings in relief.
More Exhibition Than a Contest
Another similarity between a current regular season game and a 1960s-era ASG is the starters stayed in the game. For instance, not only did the NL win the 1967 All-Star Game in 15 innings, but 11 position players from both teams played the entire game. Catcher Bill Freehan caught all 15 innings and had six plate appearances (no All-Star break for Bill!). Perhaps more incredible by today’s standards, Jim “Catfish” Hunter pitched five innings in relief but was tagged with the loss.
However, the All-Star Game of today is very different from its ancestor. None of the pitchers pitched more than an inning. No position players played the entire game. The intensity of past All-Star games is diminished by inter-league play. It’s more “exhibition” than “mid-season classic.” However, the NL’s 3-2 victory featured late-inning heroics by an unlikely hero, Elias Diaz. Fans enjoy the Home Run Derby, seeing everyone play, and hearing mic’d-up players in the middle of the game. Is it better today? Is it worse? Perhaps it’s best to say, it’s just different.