LOS ANGELES — The All-Star Game has visited 37 different baseball fields, some more than once, since its last run at Dodger Stadium. Ten of those sites have been razed and three others no longer host Major League Baseball games. Chavez Ravine always shines.
That may be part of the problem, at least for batters on Tuesday night. National League’s Clayton Kershaw will take to the mound in his home park to throw the first pitch to American League’s Shohei Ohtani shortly after 5 p.m. local time – prime time for East Coast viewers and California shadows .
“I’m not happy with shadows; I’m not happy to face Kershaw either,” Yankees judge Aaron, who will follow Ohtani in the batting order, laughed Monday. “It’s difficult because the ball is going from light to dark, you’re trying to get spin – and you don’t know if it’s a fastball to your face or if it’s going to be a slider that breaks on the plate. Especially a guy like him who has a nasty curveball and a nice little mix of cutter-curer-warmer, it’s going to be a tough game. But we’re going to put on a show for the fans.
The last time the show was here, in 1980, Ken Griffey Sr. beat Tommy John to win the game’s Most Valuable Player award. That was before Griffey became better known as the father of a Hall of Famer, Ken Jr., and before John’s left elbow surgery became common in the game. The most significant moment, however, came in those shadows of round one, when JR Richard sparked the most great pitch in baseball history.
This distinction is entirely subjective, of course. But consider the circumstances: No pitcher, at that time, had ever been taller than Richard, a 6-foot-8 right-hander for the Houston Astros who died last year. He had led the Majors in strikeouts in each of the previous two seasons, topping 300 both times, with a hellish fastball and a 94 mph slider.
And there was this: Richard was standing in the sunlight, with the marble covered in shadows. He threw only fastballs until falling behind, 3-1, to cleaner Reggie Jackson of the Yankees, who had never faced him.
The next pitch was trashed, shaking Don Drysdale in the ABC booth — “one of the fastest sliders known to mankind,” he said — and turning Jackson into a human pretzel, twisting him into the ground as he lost his balance. Jackson motioned to another slider, in the dirt, for the third shot.
“Hopeless – hopeless“, Jackson recently said. “It didn’t matter if he threw a fastball at you, and with a slider, you just hoped you didn’t hurt yourself with some kind of weird wild swing. That’s what I had. You couldn’t see the fastball due to the sunlight, and the slider was basically untouchable. Just let me get out of here and move on.
Richard was actually trying to play it safe by only working two sleeves and limiting his use of the slider. It was soon clear that he should never have pitched; he suffered from fatigue that would erupt into a career-ending stroke three weeks later.
Teams are infinitely more cautious now. Under league rule, pitchers who started on Sunday can’t work in the All-Star Game, and even those with more rest — like Houston’s Ohtani and Justin Verlander this year — can refuse to pitch.
But there are plenty of dominant pitchers for everyone. Major league hitters are batting a .242 collective this season, which would be the lowest for a full season in 55 years. AL starter Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays is holding batters averaging .176 this year, with a major league ERA of 1.71.
“These guys are tough enough to hit already,” said NL cleanup hitter Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who leads his league in batting at .330. “As a hitter you’re just trying to simplify when it’s harder to see, maybe shorten your swing and try to do less because your reaction time is going to be reduced and you might not be able to picking up the ball so soon.”
As starters in baseball’s signature summer event, McClanahan and Kershaw could hardly be more different. Kershaw, 34, is a nine-time All-Star who won his three NL Cy Young Awards before McClanahan graduated from high school. McClanahan, 25, is so anonymous that AL manager Dusty Baker of Houston forgot his team actually faced him in a 2020 playoff game.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never seen him pitch,” Baker said. “We haven’t played him at all this year, but everyone I’ve spoken to has said he’s mean, so that’s my choice.”
Kershaw, oddly enough, had never started an All-Star Game, having passed through the years he was active for Roy Halladay, Matt Cain, Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Kershaw has made just 12 starts this season, but in two of them he has been perfect in seven innings. He is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA
“Thank you for letting me start this thing,” Kershaw said at a press conference on Monday, waving to NL manager Brian Snitker of Atlanta. “It’s tough because obviously Sandy Alcantara, Tony Gonsolin, Max Fried, all those guys have better numbers than me and they should start this game and I understand that.
“But all of that to say, I’m so excited to be able to do it here at Dodger Stadium. I really didn’t think about it at the time; I was like, ‘Well, yeah, that would be fun to do that or whatever’ – but now that it’s finally here and I can start this game tomorrow night, it just means a lot.
Kershaw added that he just hopes not to spoil it too much, but he should know better. A twilight start for this generation’s first pitcher and rising AL star? What’s a bad hitter to do?
“Let’s hope for a cloudy day tomorrow,” Goldschmidt said.