CHICAGO – It’s a gathering of the best in a particular sport in one venue for one game. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the season, some towards the end, but each one brings its own unique flair to the American sports landscape.
It’s an All-Star Game, and through the years, Chicago has played host to a number of different contests featuring the best in a particular sport.
Another one is back this weekend as the NBA returns with their midseason classic on Sunday at the United Center, and it is a time to remember Chicago’s proud history of hosting these types of games.
In fact, some would say the modern All-Star Game started right here in Chicago back in the summer of 1933.
An idea of Chicago Tribune sports Arch Ward as a way to boost morale during the Great Depression, the best in Major League Baseball were brought together in the Windy City during the World’s Fair that was being held in the city.
A coin flip was held to decide whether to hold the game at Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park, and the south side venue won.
The starting lineups were picked by fan ballot while American League manager Connie Mack and National League Manager John McGraw picked the other nine players to fill out the roster for the game to be played on July 6, 1933.
Babe Ruth’s two-run homer in the third inning would provide the winning runs for the American League, who beat the National League 4-2 in front of a sellout crowd.
After hosting again in 1950, old Comiskey Park got one more All-Star Game before it was torn down after the 1990 season, and it came on the golden anniversary of the game. Fifty years to the day of the first All-Star Game, July 6, 1983, the stars returned to the venue for the “Midsummer Classic” and the American League dominated en route to a 13-3 victory. The game featured the first All-Star grand slam hit by Angels veteran outfielder Fred Lynn.
Twenty years later, the All-Star Game came back to the South Side at the new Comiskey Park, known then as US Cellular Field, with the American League winning it 7-6.
Wrigley Field has hosted three All-Star Games, doing so first in 1947, with the National League winning that game 2-1.
The most unique game came 1962, when the Cubs hosted the second “Midsummer Classic” of that particular baseball season on July 30th. The first was held in Washington DC early in July, and unlike that game, the American League dominated in a 9-4 victory in what would be the last of a three-year experiment with two All-Star Games in one season.
Thirty-eight years later in 1990, the All-Star Game returned to Wrigley Field on a rainy July night on the north side. Despite a lengthy weather delay, in which CBS famously ran an episode of their show “Rescue 911,” the American League won 2-0 on a two-run RBI double by game MVP Julio Franco.
The MLB wasn’t the only league in the sport to hold their All-Star Game in Chicago.
The Negro Leagues made Chicago their home for their own classic, starting in the same year as the MLB All-Star Game in 1933, with the game being held on September 10th of that season. Centerfielder Oscar Charleston of the Pittsburgh Crawfords was the leading vote-getter, but his East team lost to the West 11-7 as Chicago American Giants pitcher Bill Foster pitched a complete game.
Comiskey Park would host at least one Negro League East-West game every year until 1957, then again in 1959 and 1960. The last two games of its kind were played at Yankee Stadium in 1961 then Municipal Stadium in Kansas City in 1962.
For the winter sports, only Chicago Stadium has hosted All-Star Games in the NHL and the NBA.
The Blackhawks hosted four midseason classics at the venue: 1948, 1961, 1974, and 1991.
Perhaps the greatest moment in an NHL All-Star Game in Chicago, however, came before the puck even dropped in 1991. Wayne Messmer’s stirring rendition of the National Anthem shortly after the start of the Gulf War and the crowd’s cheering remains one of the great moments in the city’s sporting history.
Chicago Stadium would host the first of two NBA All-Star Games that have been held so far in the city in 1973.
The East won that game 104-84 with Boston’s Dave Cowens being named the MVP with a 15 point effort. Bulls’ players Bob Love and Chet Walker saw action off the bench for the West All-Stars, but the next stop for the NBA in Chicago would feature a member of the host team’s coming out party.
Michael Jordan would start his memorable 1988 All-Star Game weekend by winning an epic slam dunk contest against the Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins. His free throw line, flying final dunk provided an iconic image for the event and Jordan won the contest to start the weekend.
The next day in the game itself, Jordan shined for the East squad, scoring a game-high 40 points in an 138-133 East victory. The weekend was part of an incredible year for Jordan, who won his first NBA MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year, and helped the Bulls to their first playoff series win during his time with the team.
The NFL’s Pro Bowl has never been held in Chicago, but a similar contest took place in the summers at Soldier Field that featured a pro football team in a unique All-Star Contest.
From 1934 through 1976, the defending NFL champion would face a team of College All-Stars in Chicago, another idea of Tribune sports editor Arch Ward. All but two of the games were played at Soldier Field, with the 1943 and 1944 contests taking place at Dyche Stadium in Evanston.
The last contest in 1976 was a bizarre affair that featured the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The game was marred by a second half thunderstorm that was followed by fans storming the field and tearing down the goalposts in the heavy rain, with eventually the game being abandoned with the Steelers up 24-0.
Major League Soccer has held its All-Star Game twice at two different venues in Chicago.
In 2006, the new Toyota Park hosted the league’s best players in a contest against English club Chelsea, with the MLS stars winning the game 1-0.
Twelve years later, the game returned to Soldier Field where the All-Stars played to a 1-1 draw with Italian club Juventus.