Managers need relief from All-Star headache

BASEBALL

July 18, 1993|By JIM HENNENAB

Maybe something good will come out of this Cito Gaston mess after all. The All-Star flap over his not using Orioles ace Mike Mussina could prompt baseball, heaven forbid, to do something sensible.

The best, and most logical, suggestion to evolve from what Baltimore has interpreted as a rank indignity is to take the managers of the All-Star teams completely out of the picture. The league presidents, in this case the American League's Bobby Brown, supposedly assist in the selection of the reserve players, but generally speaking the decisions and the blame fall on the manager.

If Gaston, Toronto's manager, had not named four of his own players to join the three Blue Jays elected to the starting American League lineup, the situation that took place last Tuesday night would have been defused. Defused, but not eliminated.

Anybody who thought members of the first-place Blue Jays would be greeted politely had to be dreaming. And forget the so-called Canadian-American jealousies. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been had Buck Showalter and the New York Yankees been the culprits?

Ask Yogi Berra, the Hall of Famer who pinch-hit for Gus Triandos in the 1958 game, which was played at Memorial Stadium. The locals reacted as if Yogi's grandfather were responsible for The Great Baltimore Fire.

Gaston cannot be blamed for having the Blue Jays make up 25 percent of the American League All-Star roster. As Elrod Hendricks pointed out, Earl Weaver once had as many of his own players on the team during the Orioles' run as American League champions from 1969 to 1971. And that was before all the various incentive clauses that clutter most major-league contracts.

"Managing an All-Star team looks like a lot of fun," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates, who served as one of Gaston's coaches and was as surprised as anyone when Mussina didn't pitch Tuesday night. "But it really isn't."

The point to be noted here is that managing an All-Star team should be fun. It should be an honor and reward, as it's intended. And it should be hassle-free, as close to a mini-vacation as a busman's holiday can be.

That is not possible under the current setup. The method for selecting All-Star teams has been changed before, and it should be changed again. Let the fans pick the starters and let the

leagues come up with a method to select the rest of the squad. If nothing else that would prevent all the anger and frustration being vented at one person.

Such a setup wouldn't have prevented what happened Tuesday night, but any hint of premeditation would have been eliminated. Gaston is a decent person who doesn't deserve the abuse he's receiving because he might have made a mistake.

Actually, Gaston's decision to include Mussina on the team was almost as shocking as his decision to keep him out of the game. Not to belittle his 10-4 record at the All-Star break, but Mussina's biggest selling point at the time was the fact that he would have five days' rest before the game was played.

At the time, it appeared that Mussina was picked for the sole purpose of starting the game in front of his hometown crowd. When that wasn't the case, Gaston's selection of Mussina over reliever Gregg Olson was beyond logical explanation.

When Mussina, the only other Oriole selected besides Cal Ripken, didn't play in the game, one curious decision was compounded by another. And, come to think of it, wouldn't there have been a sense of poetic justice had Olson been in the bullpen instead of Mussina?

After what he went through early in the year, Olson might rather have had 48,000 people screaming "We want Gregg" than pitch in the game.

There's no way to legislate who plays in the game, but for the sake of future All-Star managers, baseball should remove them from the decision-making process, giving them only the same voice as their counterparts around the league.

For sure, Gaston would second that motion.

And another thing . . .

While the subject is still fresh, here's another suggestion (they're cheaper by the pair) for the All-Star Game.

Eliminate the designated hitter.

And before those who approve the AL's distinctive role, this is not a campaign to abolish the DH. But the All-Star Game is not the vehicle to campaign for the controversial rule.

The idea of the All-Star Game is to get as many players involved without turning the game into a charade. Without a DH (used only when the game is at American League parks), there are a minimum of three chances to pinch-hit for pitchers. There was a time when substitutions in the All-Star Game were more strategic than political. That no longer appears to be the case.

As a bonus, playing without the DH gives the American League manager an opportunity to prove he knows how to operate the "double-switch" that the National League seems to have claimed as its own invention.

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