Bud, you can relieve All-Star mess

ON BASEBALL

August 17, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Open memo to Commissioner Bud Selig:

You are right that you shouldn't alter the extra-innings format in the All-Star Game just because this year's exhibition went 15 innings.

There shouldn't be a souped-up version like there is in the Olympics, with teams beginning each inning after the 10th with runners automatically on first and second. To paraphrase the late Syd Thrift, the All-Star Game isn't country roundcat.

I also agree with you that "an additional safeguard" should be implemented in case a future All-Star Game goes extras. Selig said at this week's owners' meetings that he might expand each All-Star roster by two pitchers to make sure a league doesn't run out.

Now you're talking.

Let me dust off a proposal that I have been championing ever since the 2002 debacle that ended in an 11-inning tie.

Go ahead and pick the normal rosters with the usual requirement of one player representing each team. Once that is done, select two "insurance relief" picks for each league. Here's the requirement: The pitchers can't be starters or closers. They have to be the unsung heroes, the grimy long and setup relievers who do the dirty work.

These four players will have a special designation: They only pitch in an extra-inning, emergency situation. They know that going in, so there is no disappointment.

But there wouldn't be any disappointment because middle and setup relievers almost never get All-Star nods even when their numbers deserve consideration (see the Orioles' Jim Johnson, for instance, in this season's first half). So it would be a special reward for pitching specialists. They would experience the All-Star hoopla, and managers wouldn't have to extend a closer like the Orioles' George Sherrill just to finish a game.

It's win-win. You add insurance while rewarding the unheralded grunts.

What do you say, Bud?

All-Star fallout

The 15-inning game is still sending ripples throughout baseball. Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has insinuated that closer Brad Lidge's lack of effectiveness is related to the way Lidge was used in the All-Star Game by Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle.

Lidge was asked to warm up at least half a dozen times before he finally pitched in the 15th inning. He had a 1.12 ERA in 40 innings before the break and has a 6.75 ERA in 9 1/3 innings since, and he was briefly shut down with a shoulder issue.

"That's where he could have gotten soreness," Manuel said of the All-Star Game. "And he's just now working out of it."

Hurdle is dealing with his own All-Star ramifications. He was forced to use his own starter, Aaron Cook, for three innings during the exhibition. Cook had a 3.57 ERA before the break and has a 5.13 ERA after it. He was scratched this week with fatigue in his lower back. How much it is related to the extra work at Yankee Stadium is anyone's guess. But it is unfair to blame Hurdle, who had to manage to win the game.

"As the manager of the team there were two fundamental responsibilities," Hurdle said. "One was to win the game, and the second was just as important, to get everyone home safely. ... There is no easy answer."

Instant replay

Selig also said last week that the game is getting closer to adding limited instant replay for disputed calls on home runs and fair-foul balls. That's as expansive as Selig gets on the issue. But why not go a step further?

Have it available for close calls at the bases as well. Critics say it would further slow down the game, but a ruling could easily be made by an eye-in-the-sky in the time it takes a manager to lumber out of the dugout and argue the call. To regulate it, give the managers one challenge each game, have a time limit on making a decision and overturn the on-field ruling only if conclusive.

But don't ever let replay touch the strike zone. That part of the human element - as frustrating as it can be at times - must stay for tradition's sake.

Aching Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays have proven they have enough talent to be a legitimate playoff contender. Now they must show they can complete the marathon.

The beauty of baseball's interminable season is that all clubs are eventually hit with adversity. The Rays got their share this week. Within a day, left fielder and veteran leader Carl Crawford (right hand injury) and rookie phenom third baseman Evan Longoria (right wrist fracture) were placed on the disabled list.

Crawford had surgery and is likely lost for the season; Longoria could be back in early September. Closer Troy Percival (knee sprain) is also back on the DL.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, with their bloated payrolls and excessive depth, have been able to ride similar storms in the past. Can the Rays?

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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