The All-Star Game is baseball’s ultimate learning lab: the best of the best, teammates for a moment, swapping stories and secrets. The days of Bob Gibson snarling through the festivities, impervious to camaraderie with enemies turned teammates, are gone.
“You can always learn from anyone, especially being surrounded by masterminds of baseball who’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Minnesota Twins pitcher Pablo López, a first-time All-Star. “I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can.”
López is not alone. The All-Star Game — scheduled for Tuesday at the home of the Seattle Mariners — was once the setting for Roy Halladay learning a cutter grip from Mariano Rivera. Halladay traced his fingers on a ball that day, in 2008, and kept it with him for the rest of his career. It wound up in his display case at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Rivera, the hallowed Yankees closer, did not seek advice from others, believing that pitch grips were unique to an individual’s physiology. He was more of a shaman, a possessor of wisdom who inspired teammates by his mere presence.
“I caught him in his last All-Star Game, 2013 in New York,” said Salvador Perez, the veteran catcher for the Kansas City Royals. “It meant a lot to me to catch him. It made me work more, to try to be like him.”
Perez has now earned eight All-Star selections, the most on the American League’s active roster. (Outfielder Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels’ 11-time All-Star, is recovering from wrist surgery.) This time, Perez has a locker beside outfielder Luis Robert Jr., a first-time All-Star for the division-rival Chicago White Sox, and said it would be fun to get to know him better.
The event is a rare chance for players to have a competitive game in a relaxed setting; the winning league earned home-field advantage for its World Series representative from 2003 through 2016, but now the All-Star Game is purely an exhibition. For some players — maybe most — having fun is enough.
“I try to keep the baseball part out of it as much as I can, frankly,” said Toronto Blue Jays infielder Whit Merrifield, a three-time All-Star. “Meeting Shohei a couple of times is cool, and getting to know Trout a little bit. Those upper-echelon players, when you get to share a locker room with them and get to know them on a personal level, it’s really neat.”
Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way dynamo, is the star of stars, a source of awe even among the elite.
“I was very curious to see what made some of the greats great, what their thought process was, the work to get to that point,” said Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan, who started for the American League last July at Dodger Stadium. “I talked with Shohei quite a bit, and I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and the way he plays the game — and, my God, is he a special player.”
Marcus Semien, the Texas Rangers infielder who will start at second base for the American League, said he wished he had asked more questions in his first All-Star appearance in 2021. He did learn that some players are just built differently, and not all skills can translate among stars.
“Just seeing guys like Aaron Judge work in the cage and how hard he hits the ball, you see it on TV and playing against him, but when you see it up close, it sounds crazy,” Semien said. “It’s something I’ll never be able to do — but, hey, I try to work with what I’ve got.”
A supersized Yankees slugger from a previous generation, the Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, caught the eye of Spencer Jones, a top Yankees prospect, at the Futures Game on Saturday. Jones, a 6-foot-7 outfielder for Class A Hudson Valley, said Winfield was happy to share tips.
“He’s like, ‘I like talking to tall guys, because little guys, their leverage moves a little bit different,’” Jones said. “He was saying that the game is about adjusting, about learning and taking what you can get. He said there were three major changes that he had to make throughout his career to find the hitter he was. He became a power guy later on; he wasn’t focused on the power right away. He believes things come in time.”
Harold Reynolds, the former Mariners second baseman who managed in the Futures Game, used his first All-Star appearance, in 1987, to quiz Cal Ripken Jr. on his famous durability. Ripken was five years into his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games.
“The first year I played a full season, I thought I had mono, I was so tired,” Reynolds said. “And he told me, ‘Hey you’ve got to change the ounces on your bat.’ I remember it distinctly.”
Mariners alumni are everywhere at All-Star Week; Ken Griffey Jr. watched much of the Futures Game on Saturday from the top step of the National League dugout, chatting with Pete Crow-Armstrong, a prospect for the Chicago Cubs, and announced the first pick of the draft on Sunday.
“He’s one of a kind — I mean, everybody is, but that’s Ken Griffey Jr., I’d be doing it wrong if I asked about swings and stuff,” said Crow-Armstrong, whom the Mets traded to Chicago for the long-departed infielder Javier Báez. “We just had a nice, lengthy conversation about casual stuff, which was cool.”
Griffey was between Mariners stints the last time the All-Star Game was held in Seattle, in 2001, when the hosts had eight players on the A.L. roster. The Atlanta Braves have eight representatives on the N.L. team now, and the Rangers have six in the A.L., including five starters.
Judge was elected as a starting outfielder but is on the injured list with a torn ligament in his right big toe. The Yankees’ lone All-Star, Gerrit Cole, will be the starting pitcher for the A.L., opposing Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 2001 All-Star Game also featured a Yankees-Diamondbacks pitching matchup, with Roger Clemens against Arizona’s Randy Johnson. It was also the first All-Star Game in the lifetime of the Mariners’ current centerpiece, Julio Rodríguez, who is 22. Rodríguez made the All-Star team as a reserve outfielder — good news for Gunnar and Declan Gray, the young sons of Twins pitcher Sonny Gray.
“He’s currently their favorite player, which is awesome, a good role model for them to have,” Gray said. “He’ll be doing his thing and they’ll be on the field, so maybe they’ll be able to say, ‘What’s up’ to him.”
López, Gray’s Minnesota teammate, will have more to say to a different Mariner: George Kirby, the major league leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio. López, 27, was in the big leagues while Kirby was still pitching for Elon University in North Carolina. But in a setting like this, knowledge comes from everywhere.
“He throws a ton of strikes, he challenges everyone with everything, and he looks so comfortable on the mound,” López said. “I’m going to tell him I’m a big fan of his and congratulate him and just talk pitching with him. Any opportunity to talk baseball, I’m going to take full advantage of it.”