Want All-Star Game to count? Quit treating it like a carnival


July 11, 2005|By Bob Ryan | Bob Ryan,THE BOSTON GLOBE

The major league All-Star Game was once one of the top five events on the American sports calendar.

You had the World Series as the unquestioned numero uno, followed, in some order, by the All-Star Game, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500 and the Rose Bowl. These were the most unifying sports extravaganzas, the ones America was either watching en masse or awaiting the result. And the fact that the World Series and All-Star Games were daytime affairs only enhanced the interest. Funny. It wasn't necessary for people to see something in order to care deeply. Ah, it was a far, far different world, one that no amount of Seligerization can bring back.

Commissioner Bud Selig seems obsessed with fixing up his All-Star Game as he attempts to recover from the personally humiliating turn of events in 2002, when the game had to be halted in his hometown with the combatants tied, 7-7, when each side ran out of pitchers. No doubt he is under pressure from the TV ratings people, but it is clearly more than that. Bud wants the All-Star Game to have real, you know, meaning, and so he has come up with this ludicrous idea to award Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the World Series to the league that has won the All-Star Game.

Mr. Commissioner, please. Stop insulting our intelligence.

Bud is a baseball historian of sorts, so he knows the All-Star Game has a glorious history. But, really, who remembers anything about the All-Star Game anymore? Other than that enormous fiasco in Miller Park three years ago, and I'm glad you brought that up.

What a joke. They played 11 innings and they ran out of pitchers. They played 14 in 1950 and they didn't run out of pitchers. They played 15 innings in 1967 and they didn't run out of pitchers. Gee. Why was that?

Because they actually let pitchers pitch.

See, once upon a time, they actually played this thing as a game. The game mattered. People wanted to win for their league pride. Remember, back in the day there was no interleague trading outside of waiver deals. That's right, none. The American League hated the National League, and vice versa. As late as the 1960s, National League president Warren Giles famously lectured his lads on the solemn duty they had to defeat the dastardly American League. Now there is no such thing as a league president. You think anyone cares about what league he's in?

In the old days, everyone involved understood the deal. If you weren't starting, maybe you'd get into the game, and maybe you wouldn't. In 1935, the American League used 13 players to defeat the National League, 4-1. Lefty Gomez went the first six innings. Mel Harder pitched the last three. Repeat: two pitchers.

But as late as 1958, the NL was only using 15 players. People were there to win. In that 2-1 loss to the NL in 1967 - all the runs coming by solo homers - the AL used just five pitchers. Catfish Hunter pitched the final five innings.

Somewhere along the way, we got stupid. Now the deal is that a starter can go two innings, and then we start the parade of guys going one, or less. And that's how you wind up in the ridiculous 2002 state of affairs, as Joe Torre and Bob Brenly ran out of pitchers. And forget about a position player really enjoying a big game. Now the idea is to get everyone in. It's like modern kindergarten. It's all about self-esteem.

It's less a baseball game than a baseball carnival, and yet Commissioner Bud wishes to invest it with real importance? Amazing.

If this game is to have a meaningful consequence, then make it a game. Eliminate the preposterous requirement that every franchise be included. Stick with effective pitchers and starters. Have a game that's a game, and perhaps people might again start paying attention.

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