Since the debacle of the 2002 All-Star Game, which embarrassingly ended in a 7-7 tie at Bud Selig’s former Milwaukee Brewer town, Major League Baseball has followed it’s promotion of the annual All Star Game with the phrase “This time it counts.” It is Major League Baseball’s attempt to add relevance to its festivities by assigning world series home field advantage to the league that wins the game.
But whether there is or is not any relevance to the game, baseball has had its share of unusual or comical moments. Here are but a few that have at least some link to Arizona (even if not at the time of the event) and they are as good a starting point for travels down memory lane as any:
July 13, 1993; Baltimore, Maryland: Left-handed hitting John Kruk steps into the batter’s box in the third inning only to look up at Randy Johnson (then with the Mariners) staring him down from approximately 60 feet away. For the first pitch, The Big Unit uncorked a 98 mph fastball that sailed over Kruk’s head and to the backstop. Message received. Kruk never really re-entered the batter’s box after that first pitch. Some perceive that he was actually closer to the on-deck circle for the subsequent pitches than he was to home plate. If Kruk had the foul pole in his hands rather than his bat, he likely could not have from that distance reached the fastballs that crossed the plate. With a grin on his face, Kruk sheepishly and more than willingly returned to the bench after being struck out, claiming that Johnson was just wild enough to kill someone one day.
July 9, 1997. Cleveland, Ohio: If the 1993 Kruk incident could be viewed as “Nightmare On Johnson Street,” an incident with left-handed hitting Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies was its sequel, “Nightmare on Johnson Street 2,” but let me provide some back story. Apparently, Walker took himself out of the lineup in a June game against the Mariners. Some claimed that he did so because Johnson was pitching. Now Walker could not and would not remove himself from the all-star game lineup even with Johnson’s imposing presence on the mound. So, Walker stepped into the left-handed hitting batter’s box. The Big Unit starred him down from his perch on the mound. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” The first pitch buzzed at near 100 mph above Walker’s head and came to rest after colliding with the backstop. Johnson later mentioned that it was a humid night and the ball must have slipped. He claimed that it was mere coincidence that this happened right when Walker came up to hit (“wink, wink”). But Walker apparently studied history. Rather than “pulling a Kruk” by attempting to hit from the left side of the plate, Walker turned his helmet backwards and entered the right hand hitting batter’s box. Somehow, despite never taking the bat off his shoulder, Walker worked Johnson for a walk, laughing with relief all the way to first base.
July 9, 2002; Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Arizona Diamondback Curt Schilling was honored with the starting pitcher role and it was the top of the first inning. Following Ichiro and Shea Hillenbrand, Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate. In a direct challenge to A-Rod, Schilling called for a conference with catcher Mike Piazza, which took place between home plate and the mound. Schilling was heard to say “Nothing but fastballs,” intending it to be heard by A-Rod. In other words, “My best against your best.” Everyone knew that Schilling was a fastball pitcher and A-Rod was a fastball hitter. Schilling stuck to his word, throwing nothing but heat. Three straight fastballs over the plate and Mighty A-Rod had struck out. Did someone miss a dose of PED that day? Hmmmm.
July 9, 2002; Milwaukee, Wisconsin (just minutes after the Schilling/A-Rod encounter): It was the height of the large forehead era of baseball (also often referred to as the “steroid era” but far for me to judge). Barry Bonds (formerly of ASU) steps to the plate in the first inning and launches a Derek Lowe pitch into orbit. But Baseball’s hybrid version of Spiderman/Superman was covering his turf in centerfield. One amazing and perfectly timed leap later, Torii Hunter robbed Bonds of an all-star game round-tripper. But that didn’t end the event. As Hunter ran back to his dugout and Bonds had already rounded first base, Bonds met up with Hunter near the outfield grass behind second base. In one of the most comical moments in all-star history, Bonds lifted the 6’2″, 225 pound Hunter over his shoulder as if Hunter were nothing more than a load of laundry. Bonds must have really been worked up over being robbed of a homerun. After all, where else could that strength have come from? Hmmmm.