Managers, not the fans, do the botching 1993 ALL-STAR GAME July 13, Baltimore

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 14, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Congratulations to Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox for adding a new wrinkle to the annual All-Star debate. The managers did the unthinkable this year. They made picks even more dumb than the fans.

Of course, dumb probably isn't the right word, seeing as how Gaston and Cox were merely protecting their self-interests. It's just that the last time anyone checked, the All-Star Game was meant for the fans, not the defending league champions.

You wouldn't have known it last night. Gaston picked four Toronto Blue Jays and Cox four Atlanta Braves to join each club's elected starters. The roster-stacking was so blatant, baseball should act now to prevent it from happening again.

Like so much that needs fixing in the game, it isn't that complicated. First, you expand the rosters from 28 to 32 players. Then, you leave the selections to the league president, who would act on the recommendations of three managers.

There, it's done. The four additional players would reduce the number of unfair omissions. And the league president would prevent one team from hogging 25 percent of the roster, the way the Blue Jays did this year.

The process will never be perfect. The fans always botch one or two picks. Someone always suffers because each team must be represented. But those are necessary evils, part of the fun in a sport that often is more fun to talk about than watch.

Gaston and Cox were merely exercising their prerogatives, and technically did nothing wrong. But Gaston, in particular, went overboard. Duane Ward, Devon White and Paul Molitor should buy him a car. They cashed All-Star incentive clauses totaling $100,000.

The money is no big deal for these millionaires, but why should a Gregg Olson miss out on $50,000 simply because his manager isn't picking the team? This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Olson to be an All-Star before his home fans. But Ward made the team with fewer saves and a higher ERA.

Cox showed just as much bias picking John Smoltz, who was 7-7 at the time of the selections. Smoltz "beat out" three 10-game winners -- Bill Swift, Chris Hammond and Tommy Greene. Yet, Cox said he would have taken a fourth Atlanta pitcher -- Greg Maddux (8-8, 2.83) -- if Maddux hadn't pitched Sunday.

Incredibly, that wasn't his biggest blunder, and the exclusion of Olson wasn't Gaston's. But at least Cox couldn't be accused of favoritism when he snubbed Len Dykstra -- unless he has some type of secret pact with Cincinnati's Bobby Kelly.

How did Dykstra not get chosen? The Phillies' leadoff hitter already has scored 85 runs -- more than any NL player had entering last September. He also is on a pace to reach base 318 times, a total that has been topped by only one NL player in this century -- Lefty O'Doul (330 in 1929).

Of course, Dykstra wasn't the only premier leadoff hitter left home: Gaston snubbed Rickey Henderson so that he could include White. Henderson's on-base average is more than 100 ** points higher (.462-.355). He also has more stolen bases (28-19). But last night, there was nary a snatch catch to be had.

If the game is for the fans, Henderson is a must. Ever see him in left field at Camden Yards? Henderson loves that the fans are right on top of him. The entire game, he never shuts up. Imagine if CBS had put a microphone on him. It would have been hilarious.

Olson, Dykstra, Henderson -- yes, we're saving Mickey Tettleton for last. The Mick, too, is a Camden Yards favorite, a former Oriole who has come the closest to hitting the warehouse in game competition. With 24 homers and 73 RBI, it's unconscionable that he did not make the AL team.

Gaston could have avoided virtually all criticism simply by exchanging Ward, White and Terry Steinbach for Olson, Henderson and Tettleton. Steinbach was the lone Oakland representative. Sure, he's batting .301, but he was eighth -- eighth! -- in the fan balloting at catcher.

It's reasonable to assume the fans would have preferred to see Henderson over a nondescript player who got fewer votes than Leo Gomez. But Gaston wasn't interested in picking the best or most appealing team. His only goal was to satisfy a self-serving agenda.

Consider it done. Four of the first five AL hitters last night were Blue Jays, including Molitor, the DH. Gaston could have picked Juan Gonzalez, the winner of Monday's home run hitting contest. Or Cecil Fielder, the first player since Babe Ruth to lead the majors three straight seasons in RBI.

Alas, he followed the yellow brick road.

Right down Blue Jay Way.

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