Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2007

All-Star game will never be the same

July 12, 2007


— Raise your hand if you made room on your busy schedule for the All-Star game Tuesday night. Tell us if you cared who won. Better yet, tell us if you watched all nine innings.

Thought so.

If you're like most baseball fans, the All-Star game was long ago downgraded from a must-watch event to a vapid beauty pageant, so devoid of drama that Bud Selig had to inject it with a phony incentive.

Since 2002, the game's outcome has been used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, which tells you how desperate the commissioner is to make the Midsummer Classic relevant again. But baseball is fighting a losing battle. It's the surcharge for overexposing the game through interleague play.

Face it, there's not much suspense watching the National League's best players take on their American League counterparts when you could have seen many of these matchups two weeks ago. Interleague play has done wonders for the sport's popularity - Major League Baseball is about to set its fourth consecutive attendance record this year - but it has come at the expense of old-school rivalries.

That's what once made the All-Star Game so compelling. Not only were the players relative strangers to each other, they harbored a mutual dislike, too. When Pete Rose nuked Ray Fosse in a collision at the plate in the 1970 game, he wasn't just trying to win the game. Rose was proving a point to the American League's stars. The NL was a tougher league; players took the game more seriously and would do whatever was necessary to prevail.

We'll never see another moment like that in the new-millennium All-Star game. Just look at the way Alex Rodriguez tip-toed to the plate in the fourth inning Tuesday night, thrown out by 10 feet by Ken Griffey Jr. after Ivan Rodriguez's hit to right.

A-Rod didn't dare run into Dodgers' catcher Russell Martin; their contact was as soft as a whisper. The players are all friends now, bonded by an all-powerful union, many of them represented by the same agents. They play in each other's charity golf tournaments.

No one dares risk hurting a fellow All-Star or, more to the point, no one wants to injure himself. There's too much money at stake to take a chance in a meaningless exhibition. The All-Star game has become so casual that A-Rod admits, "When I first started playing (in the All-Star game), I was already home by the ninth inning, and I know that's not right."

To be fair, players do seem to be taking matters a little more seriously. But the culture of the game has been so irreversibly changed it's baseball's version of the Emmy's, glitzy and social, a game in name only. The most radical solution would be banishing interleague play forever, which would not only strengthen the All-Star game, but give the World Series new meaning as well.

Obviously, Selig would never commit financial suicide; interleague play is here forever, even if it means forcing teams to play unequal schedules. But that doesn't mean the commissioner is without options. Since the boundary between the American and National leagues is forever blurred, why not change the teams: Make it a contest of the young versus the old.

Pit baseball's best 20-somethings against the best 30- and 40-year-olds. Or assemble an all-USA team to take on an all-World contingent. Or place this year's statistical leaders against this generation's stars, thus allowing fans to see the likes of Craig Biggio and Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens against their cutting-edge counterparts.


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