DENVER — It was a different Coors Field that hosted the Major League All-Star Game 23 years ago today.
Most significantly, there was no humidor. The ballpark’s high-scoring ways was mystical, especially for the 10 American League teams that had never played here before as interleague play was still in its stunted infancy. Managers, confused by the mix of thin, ball-carrying air and outfield expanse, thought it best to play their outfielders near the warning track.
>Video above: Rockies past and present excited for All-Star Game in Denver
When the game’s greatest players gathered to play the Midsummer Classic at 5,280 feet, they were not yet Hall of Famers, just All-Stars.
The American League, at the onset of its ongoing dominant quarter century run, defeated the National League, 13-8, before a standing-room only gathering of 51,267 in, predictably, the highest-scoring All-Star Game ever. The 21 combined runs remain an All-Star Game record 23 years later. There were 31 hits, 19 by the American League, but surprisingly, there were only three home runs.
In today’s baseball, three home runs are hit in 2-1 games.
"The one thing that I had forgotten about was how deep the outfielders play,’’ said American League manager Mike Hargrove. “Balls fell in tonight that I haven't seen fall in all year. And truth be told, the balls that fell in front did a lot more damage than the balls that went over the fence."
At three hours, 38 minutes, it was the longest nine-inning game in All-Star history. The excitement of bringing the best players to the world’s highest-scoring ballpark turned into a monotonous marathon of Texas leaguers.
"What the world saw tonight was the flip-side," said N.L. right fielder Tony Gwynn, who started the game's scoring with a two-run single in the third inning. "Everyone was expecting to see home runs flying everywhere, but it was the bloopers and infield hits and broken bats that was what this game was all about."
Fittingly for the 1990s version of Coors Field, Bartolo Colon gave up three runs in his one inning of work and was the winning pitcher. This became so because Ugueth Urbina gave up three runs in his one inning to become the losing pitcher. Roberto Alomar was the game’s MVP after the American League second baseman slugged a homer among his three hits and had one of the game’s five stolen bases.
The game marked the return of Andres Galarraga and Walt Weiss, former Rockies stars, who came back as Atlanta Braves.
Larry Walker, who joined Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette as Rockies’ All-Stars, started in center field so Barry Bonds and Tony Gwynn could stay at their corner positions.
As it turned out, 15 future Hall of Famers participated in the All-Star Game at Coors, including Walker – but not Bonds or Roger Clemens.
Hall of Famers from 1998 All-Star Game
American: Roberto Alomar; Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter; Pedro Martinez; Cal Ripken Jr.; Ivan Rodriguez; Jim Thome
National: Craig Biggio; Trevor Hoffman; Tom Glavine; Tony Gwynn; Chipper Jones; Greg Maddux; Mike Piazza; Larry Walker
It began with a crazed frenzy over the Beanie Baby, “Glory” that like the game, didn’t live up to its hype.
When the game’s greatest players gather this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for a second All-Star Game at Coors Field, novelty will not be among the expectations. There were 12.7 runs a game at Coors Field in 1998. Thanks largely to the humidor but also adjustments in defensive strategies and pitchers’ mentality, the average game has 10.1 runs this year.
The National League, which is in a 3-19-1 rut, hopes it’s a different All-Star Game at Coors Field the second time around. What the world saw 23 years ago was its best players participate in a high-scoring, if not necessarily, well-played game.
"We've all seen that game before," said then-N.L. coach and Rockies manager Don Baylor. "It's a tough place to play."
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