NL aims to break All-Star skid

NL aims to break All-Star skid

PITTSBURGH -- It now seems like eons ago, but it has been 10 years since the National League last won an All-Star Game, in 1996 at Philadelphia's now departed Veterans Stadium.

The 6-0 victory capped a three-game Senior Circuit winning streak that began in 1994, when Moises Alou doubled home Tony Gwynn with the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning at long-gone Three Rivers Stadium, the last time the game was played in Pittsburgh. Fred McGriff, pinch-hitting against Lee Smith, had hit a two-run homer in that one to tie the score in the ninth.

"That's not very good, is it?" Mike Piazza, the Most Valuable Player of that 1996 game, said recently in San Diego, where he's playing this season for the Padres. "I can't explain it, really. The American League has had some great players in the last decade. It's just one of those things."

It gets worse. The NL has failed to win 16 times in the last 19 All-Star Games dating back to 1987, since a 2-0 win at what was then called the Oakland Coliseum. This time it counts, but it also has counted for the last three years -- and since the victorious league in the All-Star Game has been tied to home field advantage in the World Series, the National League hasn't won.

Including the infamous 7-7, 11-inning tie in 2002 at Milwaukee's Miller Park when both teams ran out of pitchers, the National Leaguers are 0-9-1 since Piazza came home to his native Eastern Pennsylvania to smack a homer and a double, score a run and drive in two more

"I guess we've somehow just been keeping the tradition alive," said Barry Bonds, who played for the NL in 1996, but will be absent from the game for the second consecutive July.

Piazza was still playing for the Dodgers back then. Bill Clinton was president. Bud Selig was interim Commissioner. Mario Lemieux had won two Stanley Cups for the Pittsburgh Penguins and hadn't retired for the first time yet. And PNC Park, which is host to All-Star festivities this year, wasn't even a glimmer in the Pittsburgh civic eye.

Piazza grew up in Norristown, Pa., which is about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia. He was one of three NLers to homer in the 1995 game at The Ballpark at Arlington, which his team also won, 3-2. At the time, Piazza was the first player to homer in back-to-back All-Star Games since Fred Lynn did it for the AL in 1979 and 1980.

"I remember that 1996 game clearly," Piazza said. "It was like a homecoming for me. A great moment. I enjoyed it very much. Winning the MVP was a great honor. It was good timing."

Perhaps surprisingly, 18 players who were on the field that night at the Vet are still active in Major League Baseball. Many were the up-and-coming stars of the sport back then and are elder statesmen right now. Five -- Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez -- played in 1996 and were selected to represent respective leagues on Tuesday night. All are now playing for different MLB teams.

Bobby Cox, who managed the winners in 1996, is managing the Atlanta Braves now just as he did then. Mike Hargrove, the losing manager for the AL that night, headed the Cleveland Indians then and is at the helm of the Seattle Mariners now.

Piazza, who hit his 400th homer earlier in the season and has 408 in all, finished second in the most recent fan voting at catcher behind Paul Lo Duca, the man who replaced him at that spot this year with the New York Mets.

Despite receiving 1.4 million votes, Piazza did not make the NL team. He was bested in the player ballot by Atlanta's Brian McCann.

Now 37 years old and with 11 All-Star appearances behind him -- including a spot in last year's 7-5 NL loss at Detroit's Comerica Park -- Piazza said he didn't mind having the break off.

"The scope of the game has changed a little bit," Piazza said. "It's just a little bit more than an exhibition. It's still an honor to go, don't get me wrong. To be an All-Star is something really cool, but it's become more ceremonial. The attitude [of the players] has changed. When I won my MVP, it just seemed like it was a more competitive game."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.