2 games would end All-Star complaints

On Baseball

July 05, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Every year, the most notable omissions from the National League and American League All-Star teams reignite the debate over the All-Star selection process.

The fan balloting is -- largely -- a popularity contest. How else do you explain why Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro finished seventh at his position in the fan poll when he ranks among the American League's top five players (at any position) in both home runs and RBIs?

Palmeiro has been one of the most productive players in the 1990s. He has more total bases than anyone else. But it took an injury to Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn to send him to Colorado for Tuesday's game.

Is this fair?

Obviously not.

It doesn't have to be. Baseball is a popularity business, and the All-Star balloting is the one real opportunity for the paying customers to play a decision-making role during the season.

"It's the fans' game," said Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, who will be making his 16th All-Star appearance Tuesday. "The fans have the say. They have control. You're trying to market the game to the fans, and this is a way to get feedback on who they want to see and who they want to be there.

"In a lot of ways, it's a popularity contest, but any system is going to have some holes in it."

Is there a better way? Not under the present single-game All-Star format. But what if Major League Baseball were willing to shorten the regular season by a couple of games for the sake of an All-Star Week celebration that included two games?

The sport should hold a five-day festival -- not unlike Super Bowl Week -- that includes both a "People's Choice" and a "Players' Choice" All-Star Game.

The fans would determine the rosters for one game and even vote for their favorite pitchers. The players would vote for the starting lineups for the second game, with the pitchers and reserves chosen by the managers and league presidents.

Obviously, a lot of players would appear in both games, but the league presidents would be in a position to correct any glaring omissions and balance the pitching staffs. The two-game format also would ease the roster crunch that has come with the addition of four expansion teams in the 1990s.

Even the players undeserving of All-Star consideration would benefit from the longer midseason break, getting more time with their families and a better chance to recuperate from the rigors of the first half.

There is a precedent. Baseball experimented with dual All-Star Games from 1959 to '61. But that was before the modern era of sports marketing. It might be time to try again.

Phillips gets second chance

The Toronto Blue Jays signed 39-year-old outfielder Tony Phillips to a minor-league contract on Wednesday and apparently plan to rush him back to the big leagues in just a couple of weeks if he performs well at Triple-A Syracuse.

Phillips' career appeared to be over after a 1997 season in which he was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine in August (he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession in November), but he says that he turned down training camp invitations from the Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Montreal Expos and Oakland Athletics this spring.

Frankly, it's surprising anyone would take a chance on him after he refused an offer from the Angels to undergo drug treatment and filed a union grievance to force that club to reinstate him after the arrest embarrassed and disrupted the franchise last August.

"I'm of the opinion that he deserves another chance," said Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash. "If he screws up, it's adios. I know he's going through an after-care program and he'll be tested on a regular basis. Baseball also has mandated certain things he must do and we have support mechanisms that have worked well with others."

Don't misunderstand. This isn't an altruistic gesture on the part of the Blue Jays. They are gambling on Phillips because they are still within range of a wild-card playoff berth and they have been unable to deal for offensive help.

"Given the status of our club now and my inability to get a trade done, this is somebody who could play a role for us," Ash said.

Eat your hearts out, O's fans

When Wilton Guerrero stole second base against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, it was the first time anyone had stolen successfully against Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez since May 24. He has thrown out 23 of 36 potential base stealers this year.

Harnisch available

The Cincinnati Reds probably will trade veteran starter Pete Harnisch before the July 31 trading deadline, but probably not to the Orioles.

Harnisch is more likely to land in Texas, where the Rangers need pitching help and are bouncing the names of minor-league prospects off the Reds.

The deal might already be done if the Rangers were willing to give up promising Double-A left-hander Corey Lee, but they are holding out hope that Todd Van Poppel will emerge as a quality starter and make the deal unnecessary.

No popularity contest

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