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Ferguson: Memories of Toronto hosting the All-Star game

Scott Ferguson
7/14/2014 1:49:23 PM
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On the eve of the 85th All-Star game at Target Field in Minneapolis, I was digging around in my basement and came across a complete copy of the Toronto Star from July 10, 1991. That was the day after the Blue Jays hosted their one and only All -Star Classic at what was then Skydome.

I have so many memories of that week, but really just a fragment of what came flooding back when I re-read that edition of the Star.

I was fortunate to be able to work the National League dugout during the "Legends" game on the Monday afternoon, so I was right there when Bill Mazeroski -- the man who hit the first World Series winning walk-off homer vs the Yankees in 1960 -- hit a shot to left in this game 31 years later. To speak with him right after this homerun was one of the greatest thrills I've ever had as a broadcaster.

Then there was the incredible display of power hitting Cal Ripken Jr. put on in the homerun derby. He smashed 12 homers and including a number of titanic shots that wowed the crowd.
 
Cal wasn't done there, though. In the bottom of the third on Tuesday night, he slugged the game-winning three run homer off the Expos; Dennis Martinez. That would ultimately propel the American League to a 4-2 victory in the 62nd All-Star game and made Ripken the game's MVP.  By a twist of fate, the Blue Jays' Jimmy Key got the win. In the second inning, the Twins' Jack Morris (a Blue Jay a year later) got hit on the foot with a line drive through the box. He left the game after the second and fortunately for him and the Twins, who would go on to win the World Series that year, Morris suffered only a bruise. Ripken slugged the homer right after Key had worked the top of the third, for his only inning of the night.

This game had an element of controversy too. Julio Franco, who was the All Star game MVP the year before at Wrigley Field in Chicago, was upset when Roberto Alomar was named the starting second baseman over him. How did that work out? Well American League skipper Tony La Russa made Alomar the only position player in his lineup to play the entire game. Franco did not get inserted into the lineup at all, though Robbie went (0-4) that must have been satisfying.
 
George Bell, then of the Chicago Cubs, was back in his old stomping grounds pinch hitting in the 9th, facing Dennis Eckersley. "Eck" struck him out and then was more than a little surprised, when he received the bulk of the cheers and Bell was booed.

Another special moment I had completely forgotten -- Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk has a bloop single in his 12th All-Star game. Not only was it his first hit in the mid-summer classic since 1981, at 43 it made him the oldest All-Star ever to get a hit.
 
We rarely got to see the National League in those days and the two members of the Senior Circuit squad who impressed me be the most were lefty Tom Glavine and reliever Rob Dibble. Glavine started and pitched two shutout innings, striking out three, while Dibble was throwing "seven kinds of smoke" in his one inning of relief.
 
There were out events that made this game special.  A Canadian "Hall of Famer" Fergie Jenkins got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Before the game, two of the games immortals -- Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, were honoured at home plate for their incredible feats, 50 years earlier, when Joe "D" ran up his incredible 56 game hit streak for the Yankees and Teddy Ballgame" became the last man to bat over .400 for a season. " Home run King Hank Aaron was the honourary captain for the National League and Rod Carew one of the game's great pure hitters for the American. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S President George Bush even attended and sat together talkng politics for part of the game. A Skydome record crowd 52,383 gave us all a taste of what it would be like to host a World Series, which of course the Blue Jays did a year later against Atlanta.
 
One more trivia note on that 1991 All-Star game. Ken Griffey Jr.. at 21. was playing in his second All-Star game, but the year before at Wrigley he went (0-2). In 91, at Skydome he got his first two All-Star hits.
 
Something else about that All-Star break; the Blue Jays had won 15 of 18 games going into it, and had a five-and-a-half game lead in the Division. They went on to win the East with a (91-71) record and finished seven games ahead of Detroit and Boston. However, they lost the ALCS to Minnesota in five games, losing the last three at home.
 
There are all kinds of trade rumours surrounding the All-Star break and 1991 was no exception. The hot one involving the Blue Jays had them getting Dennis Martinez from the Expos. It never happened and "El Presidente" went on to lead the National League in ERA with a 2,39 mark.
 
I guess the real purpose in all of this All-Star storytelling was to ultimately wonder when the game will return to Toronto. Cincinnati will host the "Big Game" next year and Commisioner Bud Selig said a few weeks ago that Baltimore had the inside track for 2016. That would have marked the 25th Anniversary of the game being played in Toronto, and would have been the perfect opportunity to schedule a sequel.
 
With Minnesota hosting this year's event, only two other American League teams have gone longer without hosting the All-Star game. Oakland hasn't since 1987 and Tampa Bay never has.
 
After the Reds do the honours next year, only 4 National League teams will have waited long than the Jays -- the Dodgers (1980),  the Cubs (1990), Washington (1969) and Miami ( never). The 1991 All-Star game was special. It's high time the Blue Jays had the chance to host it again!

The Orioles hit the All-Star break with a solid four-game lead on the Blue Jays and a five game lead on the Yankees. The last time the 0's won the division was 1997. That year, they had quite a Blue Jays connection.   Pat Gillick was the GM, and there were four players who either had been or would be Blue Jays. The four included Jimmy Key, who won 16 games that season, lefty  Randy Myers who be the Blue Jays closer for part of the following season, Roberto Alomar and Geronimo Berroa. Joe Carter would join the Orioles in 1998.

In the Wild Card Race, the Blue Jays are in a virtual tie with Kansas City -- two-and-a-half games back of Seattle and that second Wild Card slot. Considering all of that, the Blue Jays' final seven games, all at Rogers Centre, include four with Seattle followed by three versus Baltimore. It will be an incredible finish providing they are all meaningful games.



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