Should the All-Star Game count? Yes, but only for fans

All-star Game

July 12, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

Baseball has been lucky in at least one sense lately. No World Series has been influenced by commissioner Bud Selig's harebrained idea of using the All-Star Game to decide home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.

But that luck is bound to change as long as Selig continues to insist, at least publicly, that it is a good idea. One of these years, inevitably, the World Series will turn, to some degree, on which team gets to play Game 7 at home because of who won the All-Star Game.

That would represent a new low for a sport that has experienced its share of lows lately. To have a championship indirectly decided by an advantage gained in an exhibition game in which fans pick the starting lineups, well, that's beyond ludicrous. That's just embarrassing for a sport that claims to care about the legitimacy of its history.

Let's hope Selig admits having made a mistake before that happens. The All-Star Game was, is and always should be a light-hearted spectacle staged strictly for the fans. Let's hope last night's game in Pittsburgh was the fourth and last with a Series tie-in.

As you might recall, Selig came up with the idea after being forced to call the 2002 game a tie after 11 innings when managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly ran out of pitching, having shown more concern for playing everyone than winning. Selig figured a Series tie-in would make the All-Star Game more important and interesting, and not coincidentally, also more profitable thanks to higher television ratings and ad rates.

You couldn't blame him, as a chief executive officer, for wanting to improve one of his big assets, but he didn't think the idea through.

If he really wanted to make the game more important by raising the stakes, he needed to go all the way. He needed to take the fans out of the equation entirely. Sorry, no more picking the lineups. This game counts now.

He also needed to give the managers the freedom to play to win. Let them pick their rosters. Don't make them carry at least one player from each team. Don't ask them to make an important late-game substitution involving a player who is in uniform only because he won some special Internet balloting.

Hey, if the game counts, treat it like a game that counts.

But, of course, no one wanted all of that, least of all Selig. Knowing that years of labor woes and drug scandals had damaged baseball's relationship with its fans, he didn't want to give up the fan balloting or one-player-per-team rule. He didn't want to take the fans out of a game that, for better or worse, is one of the few places left where they still have a voice.

So he didn't take anything away. He tried to have it both ways - give the All-Star Game more meaning while keeping it fan-based.

But the idea was and is fatally flawed. By trying to have it both ways, he has risked the credibility of the game's history. And worst of all, he hasn't helped the All-Star Game.

"Not once have I heard, `Let's go get pumped and get home-field advantage for the American League.' It doesn't add anything," Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young told USA Today on Monday.

Enough already. The World Series is won in October, not July. The results of an exhibition game shouldn't have anything to do with it.

If the All-Star Game isn't as fresh as it used to be, well, Selig should have thought about that before committing to interleague play, which has injected a humdrum quality to many of the games between the leagues.

But while it's too late now to go back on that, it's not too late to go back on the tie-in between the All-Star Game and World Series. Selig just needs to stand up and admit the mistake. He tried; it just didn't work.

A good sports league always looks to change for the better, but a good sports league also adjusts when necessary. The NBA saw this year that it had a flaw in its playoff seeding rules when the two top teams in the West (the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs) wound up playing in the second round. That flaw is being corrected.

Selig should do the same. The old way of determining home-field advantage in the Series was fine: one year, American; the next year, National. Can't get any fairer than that.

And the All-Star Game? Just leave it alone. Its glory days might be gone, but it's still fun to watch and usually good for a memory or three. That's enough. It really is.

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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