All-Star Game's tie-in makes for new knots

ON BASEBALL

January 19, 2003|By Peter Schmuck

Baseball owners voted unanimously Thursday to give the All-Star Game a little added significance, but the decision to give the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series just opens up a new can of worms.

Consider this possible scenario: It's the bottom of the 10th inning and the National League manager has to make a tough choice. The top closer in the league - who also happens to pitch for the skipper's closest division rival - already has pitched a tough ninth inning.

If the manager goes to a lesser pitcher, he risks home-field advantage for his team if it is fortunate enough to reach the World Series. If he tries to squeeze another inning out of the premier closer, he could interrupt that pitcher's routine (or worse) entering the second half of the season and put the playoff hopes of a rival team at risk.

Far-fetched? Maybe, but that is only one of a number of strange scenarios that could arise because of a rules change that probably wouldn't have been a front-burner issue if not for the freakish outcome of last year's midsummer classic.

Commissioner Bud Selig, just a few weeks shy of another possible labor shutdown, suffered the indignity of having to suspend last year's All-Star Game at Miller Park in Milwaukee because both managers had used up their pitching in an exciting extra-inning game.

Everyone seemed to agree that if New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly had treated the game less like a player showcase and more like a real game that the embarrassing suspension would not have happened.

That might be true, but a recurrence could be avoided simply by reminding the managers each year to make sure that they save a starting pitcher for long relief work in extra innings. It wouldn't take a 15-inning tie totally out of the realm of possibility, but neither will the incentive of home-field advantage in a World Series that neither manager is certain to reach.

The roster problem also could have been solved by creating a small All-Star taxi squad composed of the three top rookie pitchers who did not make each team. They would get the opportunity to suit up for the game and take part in the festivities, but only participate in an emergency.

The American League champion has been given home-field advantage during even years, and the National League winner has had it during odd years. The new plan raises some other questions - for instance, who gets home-field advantage if the All-Star Game has to be suspended because of weather or some other unforeseen circumstance - but those things probably will be worked out when ownership and the Major League Baseball Players Association work out the finer details.

Some critics of the new rule have suggested that home-field advantage for the World Series should be determined the same way it is in the playoffs and go to the team with the best regular-season record. But Major League Baseball has resisted that approach for logistical reasons.

The NBA and NHL, which do it that way, generally have more lead time between their playoffs and the start of the championship finals. The tighter playoff schedule in baseball sometimes allows for only two days between the end of the League Championship Series and the beginning of the World Series.

Doubling the number of possible sites for the opening of the Fall Classic on such short notice would complicate the industry's ability to market its biggest showcase and raise costs for the broadcast networks.

The All-Star plan might be preferable to that, but there is room to wonder if any change was really necessary.

Evil Empire strikes back

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman steadfastly denies that New York took part in Wednesday's three-team deal with the Montreal Expos and Chicago White Sox to keep 20-game winner Bartolo Colon away from the rival Boston Red Sox, but who's going to believe him? Certainly not long-suffering Red Sox fans, whose passions have been recharged by the recent war of words between Sox president Larry Lucchino and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Certainly not Yankees fans and the media that cover that team, who accept it as a matter of faith that Steinbrenner would do anything to keep the "Curse of the Bambino" in effect.

In reality, the deal was made for pragmatic reasons. The Yankees needed reliever Antonio Osuna to replace swingman Ramiro Mendoza - who was non-tendered and recently signed with the Red Sox - and they needed to move starting pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez for economic reasons.

Making life more difficult for the Red Sox was just a bonus.

Beefed-up NL East

The intense offseason activity of the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies has turned the National League East into a three-team race that will be tough to handicap, but Mets GM Steve Phillips isn't quite ready to say that his team has caught up to the defending division champion Atlanta Braves.

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