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All in an All-Star Day

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 15, 2009 - All-Star Week in St. Louis was a thrill a minute – until the All-Star Game was actually played. The home team National League went down to the American League 4-3 in a game that was dominated by pitching and turned on a great defensive play by game MVP Carl Crawford.

Here are some highlights, and low moments, of just another summer Tuesday in St. Louis. Yeah, right.

The Red Carpet parade of players was cool, but the expected throng of thousands of fans lining the route never materialized. Maybe it was the humidity, the threat of rain or the fact that President Obama was on the way to town and traffic was a hassle. But once again, the Pope Factor came into play. The fear of a huge crowd led to a small crowd. St. Louis is capital of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pregame ceremonies don’t often live up to the hype, but last night’s did. When players spontaneously thanked the Heroes Among Us who were honored before the game, you felt a lump in your throat. Albert Pujols’ ovation when introduced gave you goose bumps. The cheers for hometown All Stars catcher Yadier Molina and closer Ryan Franklin demonstrated once again how much Cardinal Nation loves its players.

But I thought there would be longer and louder applause for Stan Musial as he rode on to the field in a golf cart. Don’t get me wrong, it was impressive. Yet it wasn’t as loud as predicted by many a sports media pundit.

Barack Obama’s ceremonial first pitch barely made it to home plat and Pujols reached out to save him from bouncing it inches in front of the plate. He wore a Chicago White Sox jersey, which is fine because he has been consistently clear that it's his favorite team.

All living past presidents were part of a video presentation saluting the service and volunteerism in America. Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all got ample face time. Bush 43 got the biggest ovation, with Clinton coming in second.

President Obama didn’t win Missouri, and enough boos were aimed at him when he took the mound for the first pitch that many of our media visitors openly wondered what was up. Regardless of your political persuasion, it was a bit embarrassing for St. Louis.

During his interview on FOX during the game, Joe Buck reminded Obama that he picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl and North Carolina to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. When pressed to pick a World Series winner, Obama calmly said, “It’s too early.”

Here’s a rundown of “our own” All Stars.

Pujols went 0-for-3, and his first-inning error led to an unearned run for the American League. He did make three excellent defensive plays in the game, though.

Molina was in line to be the game’s MVP after the second inning. His single keyed a comeback from a 2-0 deficit and the tying run scored on that hit on a Josh Hamilton throwing error. He would then score on a Prince Fielder double to give the NL its only lead of the game.

Franklin dominated the AL in his one inning of relief, setting Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira down in order.

Ryan Howard received a big ovation when introduced before the game, and the stage was set for him to be the game’s MVP in the bottom of the eighth inning against Minnesota’s Joe Nathan. A two-out walk to the Dodger’s Adrian Gonzalez and a base hit by his teammate Orlando Hudson put two men on for Howard. He had two mighty cuts, and the crowd of almost 47,000 chanting “let’s go Howard,” before striking out on a ball in the dirt.

St. Charles native Mark Buehrle of the White Sox had no problem with Pujols and the NL in the third inning. Chase Utley flied out and Pujols and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun grounded out.

After the fifth inning, a video tribute to St. Louis Cardinals greats got a great response from the crowd. Highlights dating back to the 1930s were shown on all monitors, but where was the Curt Flood clip? The video included Keith Hernandez and Joaquin Andujar so, again, how on Earth could Flood be omitted? Flood might not have been the greatest Cardinal player or the most popular Redbird to ever don the uniform, but he easily could be the most important Cardinal there ever was for his battle against baseball and the creation of free agency for all players.

Speaking of that video, Willie McGee got the loudest and most spontaneous reaction. If the current Cardinals ownership group wants to think outside the box and really impress its fans, it should retire No. 51.

What was up with so many fans heading for the exits after Pujols’ final at-bat in the bottom of the sixth? Fewer people left Busch Stadium on Monday night after Pujols was eliminated from the Home Run Derby competition.

Chicago Cubs pitch Ted Lilly was the only player booed during introductions. He smiled and tipped his cap. What a good sport.

Crawford was most deserving of the MVP Award. While he was erased on the bases by a force out, his fifth-inning single began a rally that ended with a run scoring to tie the game at 3-3. Then, Crawford robbed Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a home run when he leaped and snagged his drive in left field in the seventh inning.

At two hours and 31 minutes, this 80th All-Star Game was the shortest in duration in the past 20 years.

And, finally, if you were in kindergarten the last time the National League won the All Star Game, you are now most likely a high school graduate.

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.