It’s almost time for the 2023 MLB All-Star Game, live from T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Washington. And with [SENTENCE ABOUT THE FIELD HERE], it could very well turn out to be one of the best Midsummer Classics of all-time.
But that got us thinking: What actually is the best All-Star Game of all-time? The tie in 2002? Ted Williams’ walk-off homer? Derek Jeter’s last hurrah? There are almost too many iconic moments to count, but we weren’t about to let that keep us from trying — by putting together a definitive list of the 10 best ASGs ever. Disagree with our ranking? By all means, let us know. (But please remember that this is backed by cold, hard science, and certainly not a methodology that we made up on a whim.)
Top 10 MLB All-Star Games
No. 10 — The tie (2002)
The 2002 edition at Milwaukee’s Miller Park had the farthest-reaching impact of any Midsummer Classic, thanks to its highly controversial ending. But one shouldn’t overlook the moments that happened before the final pitch.
Torii Hunter made perhaps the greatest catch in All-Star Game history in the bottom of the first, leaping way over the wall in right-center to rob Barry Bonds — and getting a ride from the Giants slugger on his way back to the dugout:
Of course, Bonds being Bonds, he got his revenge two innings later with an absolute laser home run off Roy Halladay:
But this game wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the ending. The leagues remained deadlocked after the top of the 11th, and with their bullpens running low, managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre met with Commissioner Bud Selig by the first-base dugout. Selig declared that the game would end in a tie if the NL didn’t score in the bottom half, and that came to pass after Freddy Garcia pitched a scoreless 11th. The controversy that ensued led MLB to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the team from the winning league, in an effort to add competitive incentive to the showcase game — a rule that would remain in place through the 2016 season.
No. 9 — Extra innings for the first time (1950)
Over its first 17 years of existence, the All-Star Game had seen more than its fair share of legendary players and plays. But never had a Midsummer Classic gone to extra innings — until 1950, a contest that produced some of the most dramatic moments in the game’s history. For most of its duration, the 1950 All-Star Game was more or less routine: Robin Roberts and Vic Raschi got the starts for the NL and AL, respectively, and the Junior Circuit took a 3-2 lead into the ninth behind the bat of Ted Williams. And then, to put it mildly, everything got flipped on its head.
Ralph Kiner’s solo shot tied the game in the top of the ninth, and sent the All-Star Game to extra innings for the very first time. But wait, there’s more! After Allie Reynolds and Larry Jansen each worked around bases-loaded jams in extras, things went to the 14th, when the AL called on Ted Lee to pitch. But Lee would immediately give up a solo homer to Red Schoendienst, putting the NL ahead by one and seemingly putting the game away.
... except, well, this crazy game still had one final twist. After a one-out single, the AL had hopes of a rally, with the perfect man up to bat: Joe DiMaggio himself. But the Yankee Clipper didn’t have any magic left — he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, and finally, after more than three hours, the NL had won.
No. 8 — The wind gets weird (1961, game one)
It’s somehow comforting that not even an All-Star Game — the greatest collection of baseball talent in the world — is immune to the sense of humor of the Baseball Gods.
Consider the first game of the 1961 All-Star doubleheader: Hall of Famers like Mantle, Kaline, Killebrew, Berra, Mathews, Clemente, Koufax and Spahn traded blows for eight innings at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The NL led, 3-1, in the top of the ninth, and ace reliever Stu Miller came on with men on first and second and one out. And then, all of a sudden, the wind came.
“The flags were straight out, practically tearing off,” Stu Miller later recalled. “It was like a tornado.” Facing slugger Rocky Colavito, Miller — all 5-foot-11, 165 pounds of him — came set ... and, according to legend, was blown off the mound by an unfortunately timed gust. A balk was called, the runners advanced to second and third, and an E5 tied the game. The AL would take the lead on another E5 in the top of the tenth, but with their backs to the wall, the NL rallied — and, of course, it helps to have Willie Mays on your side. Mays doubled to left to bring home Hank Aaron to tie the score, and would later come around on Roberto Clemente’s walk-off single to right.
No. 7 — Eric Gagne’s very bad night (2003)
In 2003, Dodgers closer Eric Gagne had just about the best year you can have as a reliever: He posted a microscopic 1.20 ERA, fanned 137 batters in 82.1 innings and even took home the NL Cy Young Award. He was nearly perfect all year long. Nearly perfect, though, because while Gagne didn’t blow a save all season, there was one blemish on his season: The 2003 All-Star Game.
With home-field advantage in the World Series on the line for the very first time, both teams came out like they had something to play for. Todd Helton homered as part of a five-run fifth to put the NL ahead, but the AL chipped away thanks to Garret Anderson’s three hits and two RBIs. Still, it looked like the Senior Circuit might finally snap its six-game losing streak — it led 6-4 headed to the bottom of the eighth, with the ball in the hands of the L.A.’s lights-out closer. Gagne allowed an RBI single to Vernon Wells, but with two out, all he had to do was retire pinch-hitter Hank Blalock with a man on ... which, well:
No. 6 — Ted Williams walks it off (1941)
The 1941 All-Star Game in Detroit had everything: Hall of Fame talent, a competitive, back-and-forth game, historical significance and moments that are still remembered today.
Bob Feller got the start for the AL and was, well, Bob Feller — the Indians great threw three innings of one-hit ball while striking four. The AL bats didn’t fare much better, though, and the team led 2-1 heading into the seventh inning. Then, the NL rallied: A pair of two-run homers in consecutive innings by Arky Vaughn seemed to put the game away for good, leaving the AL with just three outs to make up a 5-2 deficit.
A tall order indeed ... unless you have Ted Williams on your team:
Williams’ three-run homer was the first walk-off in All-Star Game history, and was just another milestone in a historic season — 75 years later, he’s still the latest player to hit .400 in a season (although Luis Arraez may have something to say about that).
No. 5 — Pete Rose barrels over Ray Fosse (1970)
Typically, All-Star Games are a bit more of a ... relaxed affair. Sure, these are the best players in the world, and they want to win, but there’s no denying that the environment errs on the casual side. No one ever told that to Pete Rose, however. And with the 1970 All-Star Game hanging in the balance, Charlie Hustle lived up to his name, and made it clear that he would in fact do whatever it took to get a win.
The game was scoreless until the sixth thanks to the stellar pitching of Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver. The AL finally scratched across runs in the sixth and seventh, and took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. But Catfish Hunter couldn’t hold that lead, allowing a RBI single to Willie McCovey to tie the game and send things to extra innings. Things were uneventful until the bottom of the 12th, when Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz both singled with two outs. Then, Jim Hickman lined a base hit to center, Rose was sent home, Amos Otis’ throw was right on time, and one of the wildest moments in baseball history was born:
No. 4 — Ripken’s last ride (2001)
There was but storyline heading into the 2001 All-Star Game: Cal Ripken Jr.’s last Midsummer Classic. In the final season of his legendary 21-year career, the AL All-Stars headed to Safeco Field knowing that it would be Ripken’s 19th and final appearance. And, because Cal is Cal, the team came prepared — A-Rod even gave up his starting shortstop spot, giving Ripken the record for most starts at the position with 15.
And then, once the game got underway, Ripken decided that he would finish up the storybook ending for himself.
As for the contest itself, it was tight until the sixth inning, when back-to-back homers from Derek Jeter and Magglio Ordonez extended the AL’s lead to 4-1 and put the game away.
No. 3 — A marathon in the Bronx (2008)
Josh Hamilton had already given the Yankee Stadium crowd something to remember with the greatest performance in Home Run Derby history the previous night, and the actual game didn’t disappoint either — a game it seemed like neither side wanted to win.
The NL took a one-run lead on an Adrian Gonzalez sac fly in the top of the eighth, only for Evan Longoria to tie things up again with an RBI double in the bottom half. Once things went to extras, the Senior Circuit cut down potential winning run at home three times — twice in the bottom of the 10th, then by Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth in the 11th.
The NL had its own chance to score with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th before Joakim Soria and George Sherrill struck out back-to-back hitters to escape the jam. On the game went into the 15th inning, tying the record for the longest All-Star contest in history, before Morneau raced home to score on Michael Young’s bases-loaded sac fly.
No. 2 — Tony Gwynn’s mad dash (1994)
Greg Maddux and David Cone got the start but both were roughed up. The game went back and forth all the way until the ninth inning, when the NL found itself down 7-5. Manager Jim Fregosi pinch-hit Fred McGriff, who rewarded him with a game-tying homer to send it to extras — where the craziness would only continue.
After a Tony Gwynn single in the bottom of the 10th, Moises Alou drove a ball to the wall in left-center, and it was off to the races from there.
No. 1 — Pedro puts on a show at Fenway (1999)
At this point in the ranking, we’re reaching the best of the best, the cream of the crop. To stand out among this crowd, simply one dramatic finish or legendary moment isn’t enough — a game needs to be stuffed full of them. On that note, let us take you back to the 1999 Midsummer Classic at Fenway Park, a game that became unforgettable before a pitch was even thrown:
On the same night that MLB celebrated its All-Century team, the entire ballpark stopped to get a glimpse of a very special guest: Teddy Ballgame himself came out onto the Fenway grass to throw the first pitch, one of his final public appearances before he passed away in 2002. Players from both sides gathered around the mound just to get a glimpse of Williams — so much so that eventually the PA announcer had to request that they head back to the dugout.
Thanks to another Red Sox legend, the game itself was just as memorable. In the midst of perhaps the greatest run of pitching in baseball history, Pedro Martinez got the start for the AL, and he proceeded to strike out just about everybody. Pedro became the first pitcher to strike out the first three batters of an All-Star Game, and he would fan five of the six batters he faced overall — from Sammy Sosa to Mark McGwire to Jeff Bagwell to Larry Walker to poor, poor Barry Larkin:
He also got the win as the AL cruised, 4-1.