“Yankee Stadium is to baseball players like a cathedral of the game.”

The 2008 All-Star Game will be a special one. It will be the last one played at the hallowed grounds that is Yankee Stadium. It could be the last “big game” played there as well, if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs this season.

On a conference call hosted by ESPN to discuss the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby, Hall of Fame second baseman and current color analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball said, “Yankee Stadium is to baseball players like a cathedral of the game.”

ESPN’s Baseball Tonight analyst and former NY Mets General Manager Steve Phillips, echoed those sentiments. “More memories have been made at Yankee Stadium than any other stadium there is,” he said. “For the players to be part of the final memories or having a chance to make the final memories at that stadium is something special.”

Although Morgan played for the Cincinnati Reds, he had a few occasions to play at Yankee Stadium. Aside from playing the Yankees in the 1976 World Series, he also played in the ’77 All-Star Game where he was the NL’s starting secondbaseman. He led off the game with a HR off Jim Palmer. He talked a little about those games during the conference call.

Morgan said he didn’t visit Monument Park in 1976 but made certain to see it before the ’77 All-Star Game. “I thought of it as how great this was. I’m going to get a chance to play in Yankee Stadium, where Babe Ruth and all those guys played, as an All-Star. I’m representing my league,” said Morgan.
“I hit a home run my first time up. It wasn’t the home run, but when I was trotting around the bases my thoughts were that this was the route that Babe Ruth took,” he explained, “and I think that you’ll have players thinking those things when they’re in that ballpark. You can’t help it.”

“It is the feeling of walking in there and walking around that stadium. All the flags and the championship banners. The ghosts are there; they’re there for you as a player,” Morgan said. “You think about Lou Gehrig, you think about Babe Ruth. You think about Babe Ruth all the way up to Derek Jeter and A-Rod now. That is the way I think every time I walk into Yankee Stadium.”

Morgan also didn’t feel that having seven players from the Red Sox and six from the Cubs would diminish the aura that is the All-Star Game. Morgan felt that the Red Sox deserve to be there because they are World Champions. The Cubs, on the other hand, Morgan felt was more of a popularity deal. “From a player’s perspective, I don’t like the fact that the Cubs got more than anybody else. I understand why the Red Sox did.”

Although, Morgan also feels that the All-Star Game has changed, and not for the better. “”I don’t say the players don’t play hard. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m saying that before, Willie Mays might play the whole game. Hank Aaron might play the whole game, he said. “Now it’s, two innings, three innings and everything is changed. By the sixth inning or something, you do not have the same type of stars in the game that you had before.”

Phillips, agreed, but thought changes in baseball itself have played a part in the All-Star game’s declining intensity. “To a certain degree, interleague play has kind of diluted that feeling of playing against the other league because, you know, they’re kind of used to doing it,” he said. “And I think the other thing is free agency.

“Players now look at themselves as major league players, not American League guys and National League guys, because, you know, from one year to the next, they may be flipping from one league to the other league,” he continued. “Unless the players buy into it, it doesn’t matter what you say. You can say, ‘This one counts,’ you can say anything you want, but the players are the ones that make the game.”