Fifty-four years ago today, an experiment came to an end in Major League Baseball.
Starting in 1959, Major League Baseball had played two All-Star Games annually, to fund the players’ pension plan. It had started in 1947, but the league had fallen behind on some payments and concocted the two games to fund the pension plan. (It was also a sop to players who were complaining that an extended season – in negotiations at the same time and ultimately starting in 1961 – did not result in increased pay.)
The players would get 60 percent of the receipts from the two games to add to their coffers – which worked out to about $450,000 a year. The two games served their purpose, but reflected an odd set-up. In 1959, the games were almost a month apart. The following year, they were two days apart, and in each of the two years after that, they were 20 days apart.
The All-Star Game, started as an exhibition commemorating a World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, was still a novelty in the days before interleague play, when the American and National Leagues were separate entities, but one of the concerns with the two All-Star Games was that it diluted interest in the Midsummer Classic.
In 1961, John Drebinger of the New York Times suggested that year might be the last with two All-Star Games, saying, “The public at large is finding a second all-star attraction something of an anticlimax, like playing a second World Series in Brazil.”
Finally, it had run its course, and in the winter meetings in 1962, the second All-Star Game was dropped. A story in the Plain Dealer suggested that players were willing to take the loss of one game at the time with a boost in their share of receipts (from 60 percent of two games to 95 percent of one, still representing a loss of around $50,000) rather than risk decreased attendance to the point where the game would be killed anyway. “They agreed to this cut-down rather than find themselves in the cold on the inevitable occasion when Game II died,” Bob Dolgan wrote in the Plain Dealer.
When the announcement was made that Major League Baseball would go back to one All-Star Game, the location of the next year’s Midsummer Classic hadn’t been announced, but it was speculated that it would be Minnesota. Three days later, the choice was made: It would be Cleveland, the second time in a decade that the game came to Cleveland Stadium. Twins owner Calvin Griffith was unhappy, having lobbied for the game to be in Minnesota, but the cavernous lakefront stadium was twice the capacity of the Twins’ home, Metropolitan Stadium.
But the 1963 game – which featured 22 future Hall of Famers (although Mickey Mantle and Bill Mazeroski were scratches due to injury) – drew 44,160, still the lowest-attended All-Star Game ever held in Cleveland.