Commentary: Why MLB should start the season with the All-Star game at Dodger Stadium

Bill Shaikin
LA Times
An American flag covers the field at Dodger Stadium during the singing of the national anthem on opening day 2016. <span class="copyright">(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)</span>
An American flag covers the field at Dodger Stadium during the singing of the national anthem on opening day 2016. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

It was the original Sunday Night Baseball, a grand stage on which the country welcomed back the national pastime.

On July 14, 1981, the All-Star game was scheduled for Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, but the players were on strike. When the two-month strike ended, more than 70,000 fans packed that stadium on a Sunday night, celebrating baseball’s return with a party headlined by the game’s brightest stars. The season resumed the next day.

On July 14, 2020, the All-Star game is scheduled for Dodger Stadium. With the coronavirus outbreak indefinitely delaying the start of this season, players and owners could sacrifice the All-Star game in the interest of playing as many regular-season games as possible.

This is nonsense.

Think big. Think blue. Think about what the sport did in Cleveland all those years ago, and multiply it by a factor of Hollywood. For a league that could find itself fighting the NFL, NBA and NHL for attention at the same time when the sports shutdown ends, the All-Star game would allow America to come together to embrace the sport and its most popular players.

“I think baseball needs that,” Dodgers legend Steve Garvey said in a telephone interview. “It would make this just a magnificent reopening of the game.”

It would be shortsighted of the league to call off the All-Star game so each owner can make money off one more home game and each player can get another two games of prorated salary. At a time when Mike Trout has cautiously started revealing his personality by participating in the league’s marketing initiatives, would the league seriously take a pass on the only national spotlight Trout and Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor might enjoy this year?

“If you’re a baseball fan, you love the game, and you’d just like to see the game back, especially when the All-Stars are playing,” Garvey said. “It’s a neat way to reignite the game, so to speak.

“You’ve got to have the All-Star game. You’ve got to have your showcase.”

Garvey, a 10-time All-Star, played in that 1981 game, replacing Pete Rose as the National League first baseman. He wasn’t sharp, but that wasn’t the point. He recalled making a poor throw and getting saved on an acrobatic catch by Ozzie Smith, but the point was that Garvey, Rose and Smith were back. Baseball was back.

When baseball comes back this year, assuming it does, the return should not be an opening day in Cincinnati or Miami. The return should be an Event, with a capital E.

“You make it an extravaganza,” said Gary Miereanu, the Dodgers’ former vice president of communications and now owner of GT Marmots, a firm specializing in entertainment and sports public relations.

Just as no one is going to sporting events now, no one is going to concerts or movie theaters either. Miereanu said the Dodgers and the league could work with Hollywood on a grand reopening of all things entertainment.

Celebrate the doctors, nurses and scientists that have led the response to the coronavirus outbreak. Let them throw out first pitches, take the field with the All-Stars, lead the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Stage a postgame concert with all-star musicians, and with telephone and online options for viewers to contribute to relief efforts. Get the Hollywood stars out, walking into the ballpark on a red carpet shared by players: Mookie Betts, followed by Tom Hanks.

"Let baseball and Hollywood celebrate the end of this crisis together — to show that it's OK to be out and about again," Miereanu said.

Los Angeles is the perfect city in which to start this season. The start of every season is an exercise in hope and faith, but never will that ring as true as this year, and never has Dodger Stadium been better suited for a starring role.

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