SAN DIEGO -- Reggie Jackson, never at a loss for the flair for the dramatic, stepped to the plate yesterday to face Bob Gibson with the bases loaded and put the Hall of Famer's first pitch over the wall.
No, it was not a dream, or a Rotisserie League fantasy. It was just one of those memorable moments, this case in an old-timers game, that baseball is still more than capable of manufacturing.
Jackson, of course, not only knew how to provide what the fans in the seats want to see. He also knows who they want to see. And as he prepared to play in the Heroes of Baseball Game in a sold-out Jack Murphy Stadium here yesterday, Jackson had a pretty good idea of what the fans might have wanted to see tonight in baseball's 63rd All-Star Game.
"Cecil," Jackson said. "Cecil Fielder. People want to see him, not only because he's deserving, but because if this is a show, you want your stars here."
The problem is, Fielder, the major leagues' RBI leader with 75 for the Detroit Tigers, is not here. A victim of too few votes and too few roster spaces, Fielder is sitting at home, nursing an ego that started out the season bruised from back-to-back failed runs at the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
It is not a decision that sits well with those on the All-Star squads.
"You would have thought we could have at least brought him here for the home-run hitting contest," said Roger Clemens, the Red Sox Rocket.
"I know it's got to be a little tough to take," said Fred McGriff, the starting first baseman for the National League and a former teammate of Fielder's in Toronto. "Seventy-five RBIs -- that's some guys' seasons."
The NBA tends to find room for Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Larry Bird. Why can't baseball, with more room to maneuver, find a way to accommodate its special players regardless of how they do on the ballot?
To his credit, Fielder, the Tigers' soft-spoken first baseman, termed his exclusion from the 28-man roster of the American League a petty issue compared with others he has faced in his life. In 1990 and 1991, Fielder was named to the American League All-Star team. This year, he finished behind Mark McGwire in the balloting, a decision that no fan need defend, given the fine season being enjoyed by the Oakland first baseman.
The thing is, Fielder still could have been included in the reserves chosen by the American League's manager, Tom Kelly, and president, Bobby Brown. Kelly, hemmed in by rules requiring representation from each team and by a potential overabundance of right-handed hitters among his outfielders and first basemen, chose to look to other positions, and players, to fill the need for left-handed bats. Thus no Fielder.
"We tried to balance the roster," Brown said. "Look, it's agonizing to make these decisions and we try to be fair. And every year, we know that someone is going to feel left out. This year alone, we had Fielder, Dave Winfield, Dave Fleming, guys you could make a good argument for including. No number is ever enough."
Winfield and Fleming do have arguments. Neither has as good a case as Fielder's, so perhaps his is the case that should be used to force change. Because Fielder is not some flash, some rookie being asked to pay his dues before knocking on fame's door. Nor is he a veteran who has seen his better years and now seeks rewards for his overall contributions to the game.
Fielder is more, a man who compiled 95 home runs and 265 RBI in his previous two seasons, and continues this season on a pace that seems sure to top his personal best in RBI.
Even in the face of those arguments, some will argue that the system, though tough, is not wrong. "It may not be perfect, but there is no perfect way of doing this," Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said. "We all have to remember, though, it's the fans' game. They select the people they want to see. And if you, as a player, get shortchanged, you get shortchanged because it's show business, anyway, that's all."
The flaw is not with the fans, but with roster size. The standard roster size has been 28 for each league since 1969. It has not, in those 23 years, taken into consideration the expansion that has increased the majors from 24 to 26 teams.