Say what you will about the idea to make the All-Star Game "count," but it really has worked. The play is more intense than it used to be, in the considered opinion of Torii Hunter, one of the principals in the 2002 leaky-roof, tie game debacle that prompted the change.
Hunter is just not so sure that is a good thing.
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"You've got to make it fun," the Tigers outfielder said in the American League clubhouse at Citi Field before the game Tuesday night.
Major League Baseball officials decided something had to give after the 11-inning tie in Milwaukee, which ended when the National League ran out of pitchers. What the decision-makers came up with -- and the players association went along with -- was the plan to give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that won that year's All-Star Game.
Critics have decried it as silly, but because of it, Hunter said, "I think there's a little more intensity."
He added that players enjoy the events leading up to the game, but they do play with more of an edge than when he first played in the game. In 2002, there was a decidedly casual atmosphere back then, witnessed by the way Barry Bonds responded on the field after Hunter's spectacular catch robbed him of an extra-base hit in the first inning.
As the two crossed paths at the end of the inning, Bonds picked up Hunter as if he were a sack of potatoes. "Strong dude," Hunter recalled Tuesday.
"He said, 'Good catch, kid. High-five.' I went high, he went low. I tried to hold him down but he was too strong," said the man who was then a member of the Twins.
"My first year, it was really fun. These guys were acting crazy. Really crazy," Hunter said.
So who was the craziest? "David Ortiz for sure. The craziest ever. He sits here and holds court and tells stories about what's going on in the Dominican, what's going on in certain games. He's definitely one of the funniest guys in all-Star Game history."
But it wasn't just Ortiz, who also started Tuesday night. "Ichiro [Suzuki], definitely," Hunter said. "And Manny [Ramirez]. Oh, I forgot about Manny. He was crazy on the bench. I can't tell you the stories. Pedro [Martinez] was funny. He put bubble gum in everybody's cap and stuff like that."
In fact, one of the few players who didn't fit the mold was Derek Jeter, who is not one for kidding around on a field. "Jeter is smooth man, like a cold drink of water. Too cool for school," Hunter said. "He's definitely not crazy. He might be the smoothest baseball player ever."
The bottom line, for the outfielder who Tuesday night was in his third All-Star Game, is that the games were still competitive. He is not so sure that the so-called Midsummer Classic needs an extra dose of intensity. "It's like a pickup basketball game," Hunter said. "You still want to win."