Night of stars burns up before Selig's eyes

Sport's woes compounded with calling of tie game

Analysis

July 11, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- It was supposed to be Bud Selig's shining moment, but the 73rd All-Star Game somehow became another blemish on baseball's already tarnished image.

How could Milwaukee's Midsummer Classic end late Tuesday night with hundreds of angry fans chanting for the baseball commissioner to resign and millions more around the country wondering how baseball could go this wrong?

Selig had hoped to show off his shiny new ballpark on a national stage. Instead, he was forced to call the game after 11 innings with the score tied, 7-7, because both the American League and National League teams had run out of pitchers.

He ended up looking like Bowie Kuhn without his raincoat, but this fiasco wasn't really his fault.

The sellout crowd at Miller Park, 41,871 fans who had paid up to $175 for their tickets, was very vocal in its dismay, but there was no right answer -- no way for Selig to save himself and his industry another in a series of public relations disasters.

What was he supposed to do?

Each All-Star squad is composed of 30 players, considered until Tuesday night to be an unwieldy number. Now, there are calls to expand the rosters, though the efficacy of that solution would be in doubt as long as the All-Star managers remain committed to getting every player into the game.

"I feel bad for Bud," said American League manager Joe Torre, "but the fact of the matter is, when you have players come to an All-Star Game, you want to get them in. The downside is, if you get them all in and it's the ninth inning, the 10th inning or the 11th inning, well, you can't have it both ways."

What made it even more difficult for the fans to understand was the fact that there had never been a voluntary suspension of play with the score tied in the previous 72 games. In 1961, the All-Star Game at Boston's Fenway Park was stopped after nine innings with the score 1-1, but that was because of rain.

Fate apparently was saving this for Selig, who already was the commissioner fans loved to hate because of the visible role he has played in baseball's ugly labor relationship and his strong support for the elimination of the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos.

"This is the first time it has ever happened," a disconsolate Selig said after the game. "It's very regrettable and very sad."

It certainly was, but this controversy should have fallen in the laps of the two managers. Torre and Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly shuttled players into the game at a record pace, perhaps because the NL jumped to an early four-run lead.

Managers used to hold more players in reserve in case of extra innings. It was just that situation at the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards that sparked a long-running feud between former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina and Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.

Perhaps the scenario that played out Tuesday night won't happen again, but baseball officials are already talking about possible rule changes to assure that nothing short of an act of God causes the suspension of a future All-Star Game.

The simplest solution would be to encourage managers to leave players and pitchers in the game longer, and to hold back players the way they did in the past, but Selig hinted at some kind of roster expansion before next year's All-Star Game at Chicago's Comiskey Park.

"I think we really do have to consider, if we are going to try to get everybody in the game, we need to have some more people on the roster," he said.

That could be done in a variety of ways, not all of which would require expanding the rosters beyond 30 eligible players. Baseball could choose to add a couple of players to each squad in a "late-reserve" role. To avoid the problem of offending veteran players with a lesser All-Star designation, the managers each could chose the best rookie pitcher and position player who didn't make the regular All-Star team.

Baseball management has more pressing considerations at the moment.

Negotiations with the players union over a new labor agreement are set to resume today in New York, with the specter of another damaging work stoppage hanging over the second half of the season.

The sport also is in the throes of a troubling steroid scandal that also threatens the integrity of the game.

Don't think for a second that the nasty fan reaction at Miller Park was only about one unsatisfying All-Star Game. Public frustration with Major League Baseball is growing rapidly, and the disposition of Tuesday night's game clearly was viewed as a symbol of all that is wrong with the industry.

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