Boston is the “City of Champions,” but once upon a time it was known simply as “The Hub.” The Hub had its share of moments, but as of the late 20th century, moments of glory were hard to come by. But in 1999, Boston hosted perhaps the most remembered All-Star Game in history and the greatest moment that the “Mid-Summer Classic” has ever seen.
This isn’t about Pedro Martinez. This isn’t about him striking out the murderers’ row of the steroid era or winning the MVP. This is about a real life “Field of Dreams” moment that happened on live television and probably 40,000 people jammed inside Fenway Park.
Ted Williams rode a golf cart from center field, to the middle of the diamond and was engulfed by the greatest players in Major League Baseball. Notice the absence of the word current. The Kid wasn’t just surrounded by the greatest players of the first half of the 1999 season, but the greatest players the game has ever seen. Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter were joined on the field by baseball’s All-Century team: Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Feller and more than I could possibly name here without one hopping into the absurd.
Williams, 80 years old at the time, simply wanted to talk to each player. Imagine hearing the conversations of Williams and the 50 greatest players of the last 100 years of baseball? That’s priceless footage. You think I’m overselling how special this moment was? Jim Rice, the most standoffish superstar Boston has ever known, asked Mays for his autograph standing on the infield of Fenway Park.
Eventually after the public address announcer had to ask for the players to clear the field to get on with the meaningless exhibition game — which shame on whoever decided to break up the greatest scene baseball has ever had — Williams threw out the first pitch to Carlton Fisk, with the guidance of Tony Gwynn. A tad inside but there was no chance the Splendid Splinter was bouncing this one like some Tik-Tok-Youtube-2020-“Celebrity”.
This was a moment, one the likes of baseball has been built off. The passage of time and the value of history have always been richest in baseball, even though it feels like other sports have caught up considerably in the time since Y2K. There is a chance that this was baseball’s last truly great moment where it showed just how much it means to our country. Williams’ pitch happened in the cigarette smoke-afterglow of the great home run chase of 1998. After the 1999 All-Star Game there was Barry Bonds breaking the home run record, the BALCO scandal, the Mitchell Report, Alexander Rodriguez’s career and the Houston Astros banging trash cans.
Watching NESN’s replay of this broadcast earlier this week, I’m reminded of James Earl Jones’ speech in Field of Dreams:
“The one constant through all the years Ray has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, it’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”
Twenty-one years later, I couldn’t agree more. I wish this moment had never been erased from the blackboard but left untouched in perpetuity. Twenty-one years later and the blackboard has been erased and rebuilt numerous times, but in terms of a moment, this one will never be approached again.
Jeff Solari is the founder of the Maine Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free, weekly sports email newsletter. He has been in sports media since he was 17 and is not shy with his opinions or perspective on the world of sports. The longtime sports broadcaster is a graduate of Mount Desert Island High School and the University of Southern Maine. Previous gigs included WLBZ-TV and WCSH-TV, host of “The Shootaround” talk radio show on WZON and stints with “Downtown” and “The Drive.” Solari has won more than 15 Maine Association of Broadcasters and AP broadcaster awards.