Commentary

Stadium tribute lacked emotion, star power of '99

Updated: July 16, 2008, 10:23 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- It was described as the greatest collection of players in one spot in the history of baseball. But Tuesday's eagerly anticipated pregame ceremony may not have even been the greatest in the history of Yankee Stadium. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, that distinction might have been any time Babe Ruth walked onto the field by himself.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Steinbrenner
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesYankees owner George Steinbrenner was driven onto the field in a golf cart before the All-Star Game.
With this being the last season at Yankee Stadium and with the promise of an appearance by most of the living Hall of Famers, Tuesday's pregame ceremony was as eagerly awaited as the game itself. And whenever you have Hank Aaron and Willie Mays on the field, it's an occasion guaranteed to challenge the memory cards of most cameras.

"It was unbelievable," said Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who wound up as the game's winning pitcher more than five hours after the ceremony. "It was very memorable having all the Hall of Famers out there. It just felt special to be on the same field as those guys."

Perhaps, but the occasion fell short of matching the similar ceremony before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, when baseball honored its All-Century team. Despite the many Hall of Famers who took the field Tuesday night, the ceremony was also notable for its many absences, including Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, Stan Musial, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski.

Compare that to the 1999 gathering. In addition to many of the players at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, the Fenway ceremony had Bench, Koufax, Ryan, Morgan, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Rose, Stan Musial, Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Pedro Martinez, Robbie Alomar and, of course, Ted Williams.

That night could have been topped only if the players had entered the ballpark through a cornfield.

The climax in 1999 was when the aging Williams rode a cart to the mound, where Gwynn helped him throw out the ceremonial first pitch. That moment was so emotional it brought the players to tears and provoked goose bumps on the fans' arms so large it appeared they were the ones on steroids.

Contrast that to the moment Tuesday when ailing Yankees owner George Steinbrenner rode onto the field in a cart in similar fashion. Feelings toward Steinbrenner have certainly softened in recent years, and it may sound mean to broach the subject given his present condition. But this is still an owner who twice was banned from baseball, is generally reviled outside of New York and has been booed by even his own fans with loud chants of "Steinbrenner sucks!" So while there were some tears in the stadium, it didn't quite have the same sentimental tug as Teddy Ballgame's last national public appearance.

[+] EnlargeYankee Stadium
Michael Heiman/Getty ImagesThis year's All-Star starters took their positions on the field and stood alongside the Hall of Famers.
There were some nice touches to the ceremony, though. Announcing the Yankees' Hall of Famers last at each position allowed them to get spotlighted before the home fans, while introducing the starters for the game alongside their Hall of Fame counterparts was a good call. All-Star Baltimore reliever George Sherrill said he was tempted to ask the Hall of Famers for autographs.

"They were close enough for that," Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau said. "You look around and say, 'That guy has 500 home runs. And that guy has 500 home runs. And that guy has 3,000 hits."'

Still, the ceremony was too much of a blatant copy of the Fenway moment and could have used a few more Yankee Stadium elements, like announcer Bob Sheppard (who, unfortunately was home due to illness) or the return of Challenger the Eagle.

And while we're at it -- how come "O Canada" was a tape recording instead of a live performance? The Yankees were able to bring back the Village People to lip-synch "Y.M.C.A." -- but they somehow couldn't find a single performer in the entire city of New York available to sing Canada's national anthem?

"Yeah, that was interesting," said Morneau, who is Canadian. "But I guess there's only a couple of us here."

On the other hand, the 1999 ceremony was so emotional that it overshadowed the game. That wasn't the case Tuesday, thanks to a 15-inning marathon that ended with the winning run scoring on the last play of the game, a fitting way to close out what may have been the final big night at Yankee Stadium.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE