As clouds gather, baseball wishes upon its stars

But festivities unlikely to lift gloom or distract from labor, steroid woes

All-star Game

July 09, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE - Baseball's annual All-Star festival has everything a fan could want, but the 73rd midsummer classic will be played in the shadow of everything that baseball fans have come to fear.

The All-Stars will come out tonight at Miller Park for what is supposed to be the sport's most fan-friendly event. Curt Schilling will start against Derek Lowe in a dynamic pitching matchup. Super-sluggers Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa will bat in the same lineup. Milwaukee, long one of baseball's backwater towns, will be the center of the baseball universe.

If only it could be as it was originally intended - a carefree respite in the middle of an engrossing set of divisional races. If only it could be played outside the realm of nasty labor politics and a troublesome steroid controversy. If only it could be immune to the sadness that has gripped the sport after the recent deaths of St. Louis Cardinals star Darryl Kile, broadcaster Jack Buck and Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams.

Of course, it cannot.

This is one of those years when the All-Star Game meets the real world. It is not a happy time for baseball.

"The All-Star Game is still fun to come to," said New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "This is the fans' game, and we're fans, too. You try to turn everything into a positive. Obviously, there are story lines off the field, but you hope that you can forget about that for a few days."

That is no easy task. The executive council of Major League Baseball Players Association spent yesterday near Chicago discussing possible strike scenarios, which cast a cloud over the All-Star workout day even though the union did not announce a strike date.

The fact that the players held their strategy summit before the All-Star Game may have been largely a function of convenience, since the midseason break is the only logical time to bring together the union's player representatives, but the timing of the meeting and the tenor of the public debate between the players and owners still suggests that baseball is headed for another ugly labor showdown.

"I hope the talk of a strike doesn't ruin the week," said San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, "but I got hit with that question first thing today. That's all anybody's talking about."

If nothing else, the non-announcement from Chicago provided some temporary relief to labor-weary fans, stressed-out television executives and local organizers.

There had been rumblings for months that the players would do something to upstage Bud Selig's backyard All-Star bash. There were even rumors of a union plan to boycott the game, though MLPBA officials insist that was never discussed.

Sixty of baseball's best players will be in uniform tonight to celebrate the game in spite of itself, and to pay appropriate tribute to Kile, Buck and Williams.

The 33-year-old Cardinals pitcher died in his sleep in Chicago on June 22. Buck died June 18 after a long illness. Williams, considered by many the greatest pure hitter of all time, passed away on Friday, almost three years to the day after he was honored in an emotional All-Star ceremony at Boston's Fenway Park.

There will be pre-game ceremonies to honor the memory of all three, but Yankees star Jason Giambi does not believe that will cast a pall over the All-Star festivities.

"No, because I know they are going to do some special things for them," Giambi said. "These were special people in the game. Darryl Kile's death was a great shock. Jack Buck was a great asset to the game. Ted Williams was a legendary player. I think there are going to be some special ceremonies for them and it's going to be great to be involved in that."

Giambi wasn't quite so thrilled to find that one of the hottest topics at yesterday's All-Star media conference was the continuing controversy over steroid use in baseball.

The steroid issue doesn't want to go away, and USA Today published a poll in yesterday's editions that indicated a large majority (79 percent) of major-league players favor testing to detect steroid abuse.

"I think it [the steroid issue] has been blown way out of proportion," Giambi said. "This is no longer a sport where guys show up at spring training to get in shape. Guys are just working out year-round, ballparks are smaller and guys are more willing to take the strikeout to hit the home run."

It's not that simple, of course, not after former stars Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti both came forward with allegations that large numbers of major-league players have used performance-enhancing drugs.

"Obviously, there are some issues that need to be addressed," said New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, "but I hope the fans can enjoy this event and put that on the back burner for a while."

There were so many peripheral issues on yesterday's agenda, in fact, that Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra expressed shock when a reporter tried to ask him a question about the game.

"That's a baseball question," shouted Garciaparra in mock horror. "We're not answering baseball questions here. We're talking about steroids. We're talking about labor. There are no baseball questions."

THE GAME

8 tonight

Miller Park, Milwaukee

AL LINEUP

1. Ichiro Suzuki

Seattle Mariners RF

2. Shea Hillenbrand

Boston Red Sox 3B

3. Alex Rodriguez

Texas Rangers SS

4. Jason Giambi

New York Yankees 1B

5. Manny Ramirez

Boston Red Sox LF

6. Jorge Posada

New York Yankees C

7. Torii Hunter

Minnesota Twins CF

8. Alfonso Soriano

New York Yankees 2B

9. Derek Lowe

Boston Red Sox P

NL LINEUP

1. Jose Vidro

Montreal Expos 2B

2. Todd Helton

Colorado Rockies 1B

3. Barry Bonds

San Francisco Giants LF

4. Sammy Sosa

Chicago Cubs RF

5. Vladimir Guerrero

Montreal Expos CF

6. Mike Piazza

New York Mets C

7. Scott Rolen

Philadelphia Phillies 3B

8. Jimmy Rollins

Philadelphia Phillies, SS

9. Curt Schilling

Arizona Diamondbacks P

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