As if it were written in the stars, George Steinbrenner entered this world on the only American holiday as large as the life he would go on live…the Fourth of July. And as if “The Boss” himself authored his own final chapter, he would leave it on the day of baseball’s most celebrated holiday…the Midsummer Classic.
Steinbrenner personified the industrial era that allowed him to accumulate great wealth, parlaying that success into 7 championship titles and perhaps the most recognizable sports brand in the world. He insisted that his players represent the organization with blue-collar vigor, while exuding white-collar grace.
His gruff demeanor was somehow endearing, as he demanded perfection from everyone around him. Often his antics were debatable. Sometimes they were merely controversial. Others times, they were flat-out impermissible. However, his commitment to winning was as omnipresent as the unconvincing scowl etched upon this deceptively warm-natured man’s face.
For many reasons, the All-Star game has come to represent something much more ambiguous. No longer purebred exhibition, recent contests have lacked the passion of bloodthirsty competition. Whether “it counts” or not, gone are the days when a Pete Rose would barrel over a Ray Fosse in the 12th. In their place, tie-games are called in the 11th.
From the ceremonial first pitch, a seed on the black of the plate thrown by Angels’ legend Rod Carew, the energy of the 2010 All-Star game was different. What was at first curious, Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez pouring on the gas high and tight to Derek Jeter, became abundantly clear when leftfielder Ryan Braun laid himself out to take extra bases away from Josh Hamilton in the bottom of the fourth.
A rejuvenated Scott Rolen left no doubt as to his desire, running like a man possessed to snatch an extra base in the seventh. This small but profound act, enabled by a Matt Holliday single and followed by a 2-out, full-count walk by Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd, led to the play of the game, as Atlanta backstop Brian McCann would stroke a double into right that would plate all three base runners.
In classic Chicago Cubs style, Marlon Byrd would challenge the group’s resolve by striking out smiling at the plate. But shortly after, he would atone with a heads-up play to force out Boston’s David Ortiz at second on a fly ball off the bat of Blue Jay John Buck in the ninth.
Adam Wainwright would state after the first NL victory in 13 years, “Enough was enough”. If you didn’t feel the Cardinal starter’s heart and soul as he pumped his fist after striking out Vladimir Guerrero, then it is possible you were watching the game with George.
The American League failed. New York’s skipper, the ever classy Joe Girardi was outdueled by Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel. Young Yankees’ hurler Phil Hughes even took the loss. Still, it is hard to imagine the ghost of the mercurial owner not smiling down at this historic National League victory.
OK, that may be a stretch, but he would have respected it. And to earn respect is a victory in and of itself.