Save some boos for the system, too

JOHN EISENBERG

July 16, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

If you can break yourself away from your Cito Gaston voodoo doll for a minute, let's talk about the piece of business that started this All-Star brouhaha: the selection process.

A process in dire need of an overhaul.

Baltimore's All-Star night ending in booing because Gaston didn't pitch Mike Mussina in the ninth inning, but the crowd was stirred up in the first place because Gaston put seven Blue Jays on his American League roster and left off Mickey Tettleton, Rickey Henderson and several others who deserved to go but happened not to play for Toronto.

Cito caught a bucket of heat, and it seemed like the worst wronging in history, or at least a couple of days, but National League manager Bobby Cox was catching the same stuff at the same time for homering a couple of Braves onto the team.

The truth is that there is a hullabaloo every year, someone upset about something, and there will continue to be hullabaloos every year as long as the teams get picked in this fashion.

"The system guarantees that people will get jobbed," Twins manager Tom Kelly, who has managed the AL team twice, said last night at Camden Yards. "I had to leave Cecil Fielder off in '92. He was an All-Star. The whole country knew it. But it just didn't work out."

Enough already. Baseball should change the rules, particularly as it is the one that suffers when an All-Star Game winds up short on stars. (No disrespect intended, but does anyone really want to watch Scott Cooper and Terry Steinbach other than Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Steinbach?)

Two rules need trashing. The rule forcing each club to have a representative. The rule about the manager selecting the pitchers and reserves. Say goodbye to both and the teams start getting better, certainly more interesting, in a hurry.

Some believe that the best antidote would be taking the power of choosing the starters away from the fans. Or expanding the rosters. But neither is the answer.

The fans deserve the right to pick the starters. They're disconnected enough from the game by high player salaries and $50 autographs. They deserve a voice somewhere, and the All-Star Game -- their event, in theory -- is a perfect place.

Maybe they do cause some trouble by sometimes picking stars instead of starry numbers (a Cal Ripken instead of a Travis Fryman, even with Ripken at .229) but if that's what they want, fine. Who would you rather watch anyway, Ozzie Smith or Jeff Blauser?

Expanding rosters obviously would make things easier, but it would also lower the standards, and they're low enough.

No, deserving players get left off mostly because undeserving players qualify via the one-man, one-team rule, or because a manager plays favorites. (After Cito's heroic efforts in the latter pursuit, perhaps it should be referred to from now on as "Gastoning" the roster.)

The one-man, one-team rule paralyzes the process of picking pitchers and reserves. If only one team sends a mediocre player -- it happens every year -- all sorts of juggling occurs and you wind up with Coopers and Steinbachs.

"It is something that makes you do some [strange] things," Kelly said.

Eliminate the rule, and you'll wind up taking the 28 players who belong. The game won't be any less appealing, either. Are Oakland fans going to be that much more interested because Steinbach (.250) is playing? Not likely. They'll want to see the big stars, like everyone else.

Taking the vote away from the manager is an absolute must, for no reason more so than it creates a colossal conflict of interest. This year offered a perfect demonstration. Several Blue Jays had All-Star bonuses in their contracts. Gaston lined their pockets. Beautiful.

It isn't right, of course, but can you really blame Gaston, who was only doing his job and trying to keep his players happy? What does he care if Rickey Henderson doesn't get an All-Star bonus? Does he have to face Rickey every day?

No, the problem is that the manager has such power. There are just too many pressures and temptations. He can't possibly do the job right.

The simple solution is to let the league presidents pick the reserves. They'd have no biases or constraints. They'd sweat bullets attempting to be fair and avoid any hint of favoritism.

And besides, it would give them something to do.

As for managers who play the bully during the game and refuse to satisfy a host city that has knocked itself out to put on a grand show, there isn't a thing anyone can do.

Just boo.

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