Leave it to Jeff Conine to take one swing and prove that a single dramatic moment can be the key to the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player Award.In 1995, the man known as Mr. Marlin was well on his way to becoming a franchise icon, but he wasn't thinking that
Leave it to Jeff Conine to take one swing and prove that a single dramatic moment can be the key to the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player Award.
In 1995, the man known as Mr. Marlin was well on his way to becoming a franchise icon, but he wasn't thinking that everyone in The Ballpark at Arlington would be chanting his name after the 66th All-Star Game. The outfielder, who had been selected to the 1994 NL squad but didn't appear in the game, enjoyed a return to the exalted roster on July 11. And that night, the NL was sweating out a tight one -- not to mention sweating profusely during a game that underscored the summer in Midsummer Classic, with a 96-degree reading at first pitch.
Despite the heat, a crowd of 50,920 had swarmed to see how Dodgers phenom Hideo Nomo would fare against the best bats in the AL, and the Japanese rookie pitched two stellar innings. The Junior Circuit took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on a Frank Thomas home run, but the NL responded with solo shots from Craig Biggio in the sixth and Mike Piazza in the seventh to tie it up.
In the eighth, Conine delivered what would be the final blow, crushing a Steve Ontiveros offering into the left-field seats to seal a 3-2 victory. During a game in which the NL boasted just three hits, all homers, Conine's proved to be the most meaningful. And so, he took home the individual hardware and inscribed his feat into the books.
"To get all this attention with one swing, I wouldn't say it's cheap, but I'll take it," Conine told reporters. "This has got to throw my name somewhere out there, and that's fine with me."
All-Star Game MVPs
The list of MVP-winning names throughout the history of the All-Star Game is littered with Hall-of-Fame credentials and clutch feats that have made audiences nationwide gasp. Some, though, just seem to be more memorable than others.
In 1989, for example, President Ronald Reagan had just vacated the White House and seemed relaxed when he joined legend Vin Scully in the broadcast booth for the start of the 60th All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium, in Reagan's home state of California. The two were still getting acquainted and soaking in the atmosphere of a sun-dappled crowd of 64,036, as the NL knocked around AL starter Dave Stewart to the tune of two runs in the top of the first. But when the bottom of the frame arrived, Junior Circuit leadoff man Bo Jackson, the Heisman Trophy-winning specimen of a two-sport athlete and ubiquitous Nike pitchman, strode to the plate.
"That Bo down there, that's a pretty interesting hobby he has for his vacation," said Reagan, who was six months into his own time out of office. He watched as Jackson dug into the batter's box against NL starter Rick Reuschel, sporting a white Royals uniform that looked like it was painted over his chiseled frame. "When baseball ends he winds up playing football," Reagan continued. "I just don't know if there's ever been …"
Jackson cut off Reagan mid-sentence. Crack.
The ball traveled an estimated 450 feet to dead center field and bounced around on the rarely-reached green tarp while fans scurried for the souvenir. And even though Wade Boggs homered in the very next at-bat and Jackson added an RBI, a stolen base and a single later in the game, nobody remembers much of that. Jackson earned the All-Star Game MVP nod with that first swing, as the AL went on to win, 5-3.
"He's remarkable," Scully said upon impact. "And look at that one. Bo Jackson says hello!"
Jackson reveled in the hype, and it's safe to say that another young phenom is just as comfortable in the spotlight. Coincidentally, he calls Los Angeles home, to boot.
Mike Trout, the Angels' all-everything center fielder, is still just 25 years old, yet has already become the only player ever to win back-to-back MVP Awards at the Midsummer Classic. He did it in 2014 at Target Field in Minneapolis, going 2 for 3 with a double, a triple and two RBI, and again in 2015, leading off the game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati with an opposite-field homer off Zack Greinke, then adding a walk and scoring another run.
Prior to the game, the fan-voted "Greatest Living Players," four from each franchise, were announced on the field. After the game, the talk involved Trout's entrance into those conversations.
"[Trout] is a tremendous talent," said National League skipper Bruce Bochy. "He's going to be standing there, I think, with the guys we saw tonight."
Years earlier, around the time that Trout's parents were entering college, another great player got to take home the MVP hardware for a unique reason. When Dave Parker looks back at the 1979 All-Star Game at Seattle's Kingdome now, he knows he couldn't have scripted it better. Sure, the five-tool player known as "Cobra," then with the Pirates and the NL's starting right fielder for the Midsummer Classic, contributed offensively, with a sacrifice fly off AL starter Nolan Ryan. But the award was sealed with two throws in the span of two innings.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jim Rice lofted a high fly to right, a seemingly routine play, but there were some extenuating circumstances. The game was played indoors, and 58,905 screaming spectators created a deafening cacophony. And then there was the Kingdome roof.
"It was decorated in red, white and blue for the occasion," says Parker. "It was really hard to see the ball, and I just lost that one."
Unfortunately for Rice and the AL, Parker found it a few feet behind him and delivered a strike to third baseman Ron Cey, nailing Rice as he tried for three. Parker's next gem, though, in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied, was the most important one. AL third baseman Graig Nettles singled to right and the ball hopped high off the artificial surface, prompting Brian Downing, who was on second base, to try to score. But Parker leaped high enough to snag the ball and come up firing, uncorking a laser that hit catcher Gary Carter's glove on a line. Carter had expertly maneuvered into the right spot, and Downing was dead to rights.
So, too, was the AL, once its reliever, Jim Kern, walked four batters in the ninth and surrendered the winning run in a 7-6 loss. But the topic of conversation after the game was the cannon of a right arm attached to the Most Valuable Parker.
"It was the first time an All-Star Game MVP was awarded because of defense," Parker says. "I'm proud that it was because of me, being that my second throw ended up being the one that won the game. I've got to give Gary Carter credit for making a great play. It was just special because I was known as an offensive player, but I could really play defense, too.
"The NL took pride in beating the AL all those years. We went out there to beat them. We didn't go out there just to put on a show."
No matter the result of the Midsummer Classic, putting on a show is an All-Star tradition. And while Jackson and Trout gave us MVP hellos, there have been some emotional MVP farewells, too. Cal Ripken Jr. was the All-Star Game MVP at Safeco Field in 2001, his final year in the Big Leagues. The Iron Man hit a home run and played an inning of shortstop thanks to Alexander Rodriguez, who moved over to third to accommodate him.
In '13, legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera pitched the eighth instead of his customary ninth -- Manager Jim Leyland wanted to guarantee some on-field recognition -- in his final All-Star Game, held a borough over from the Bronx at the Mets' Citi Field.
"I said to the players before the game, 'I'm not a motivational speaker, but my motivation for tonight is to work our fannies off, and to bring in the greatest closer of all time,'" Leyland said.
The AL led, 3-0, when Rivera entered to a standing ovation, retired the NL in order on 16 pitches, and watched as both teams clapped atop the dugout steps before leaving with the hardware.
So many All-Star Games, so many MVP moments. Who can forget Pedro Martinez's dominance in front of his home crowd at Fenway Park in 1999, or Willie McCovey's two-homer night at RFK Stadium in Washington 30 years prior? And how about Ichiro Suzuki's honor for hitting the first inside-the-park homer in Midsummer Classic history in 2007, or Fred Lynn's claim to the first All-Star Game grand slam en route to his MVP Award in 1983?
The event always has provided baseball's best with the opportunity to come through and walk away with the memory of a lifetime. Just ask Mr. Marlin.
"Some of my buddies in Florida said, 'Hey, if you get in the game, you gotta swing for the fences,'" Conine said after his 1995 All-Star heroics.
"If you can't do it in the postseason, you want to do it in the All-Star Game."
This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com.