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MLB - The All-Marred Game

By Gary Cozine
Monday, July 22nd, 2002

On this site, I have recently lamented the state of the Midsummer Classic. (And that was prior to July 9th, when Bud Selig decided to treat the event like a big t-ball game.) "Hey, America, there was no loser -- we're all winners. Isn't that great?" It's possible that the whole debacle has been deconstructed within an inch of its life, but I've heard several half-baked comments about the game in the past couple of weeks that I'd like to address.

Some people have suggested that instead of allowing the game to end in a tie, they should have produced a winner via a homerun hitting contest. In all candor, I think this idea is moronic. It's a completely arbitrary solution. Why not resolve it with a stolen base contest or a sacrifice bunt contest, or hell, maybe a pie-eating contest?

Another comment I've often heard (cited by Selig, Bob Brenly, and Joe Torre, if I'm not mistaken) is that All-Star managers can't risk a player getting hurt in a meaningless game. This whole issue of injuries requires a closer look.

First of all, both managers could have avoided overtaxing their pitchers by letting some guys face more than a couple of batters. If you're in danger of blowing out your arm because you had to pitch an entire inning, you may not have the necessary stamina to be a big league pitcher. (Of the 19 pitchers used, 13 of them threw 20 pitches or less in their appearance.)

Secondly, getting hurt is always a possibility because it's a fact of life. If a ballplayer is going to get hurt -- again, I'm not talking about a Pete Rose/Ray Fosse situation here -- isn't it better that he does so on the diamond rather than off? In recent years, we've seen guys injure themselves picking up their kids, walking into furniture, opening CD cases with hunting knives and -- yes, it's coming -- washing their trucks. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.)

Are general managers happier when their stars are out six weeks because they were acting like Charlie Chaplin off the field rather than playing on it? Aren't the fans paying the ballplayers' salaries anyway? If these guys are going to go down, wouldn't we prefer to see them doing it while attempting to break up a double-play rather than trying to open the new Dave Matthews album?

And what about the homerun derby? What if Jason Giambi were to wrench his back and couldn't play until late August? Isn't this exhibition even less meaningful than the All-Star Game itself? Should we do away with it, as well? Hey, I've got an idea -- why don't we just seal all of these guys into hyperbaric glass tubes from July 8 until July 10, place them on the field in Milwaukee as if they were lying in state, and let fans walk past them? "Don't tap on the glass, ma'am."

The All-Star Game is suffering from an identity crisis. Is it a serious competition or merely an exhibition? If it's a serious competition, why are the managers trying to get everybody into the game even if it means playing them out of their normal positions (Omar Vizquel at second base)?

Why are some of the best players in the game declining the invitation (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez)? Why are the managers not even going through the rudimentary effort of establishing signs and putting on plays? Why is the game beginning to look more and more like the WWF?

(Prior to this year's game, FOX ran cartoon promos that promised the event would resolve an ancient rivalry between the National and American Leagues and determine once and for all which league was the greatest. The only thing the game resolved was the question of whether or not 50,000 people could chant obscenities in unison.)

And if the game is only an exhibition, why are ticket prices so absurdly high? Why do we bother to keep stats? Why do we award an All-Star MVP? Why was it once treated so differently? (Ted Williams, a player with no shortage of career highlights, is on record as saying that the game-winning homerun he hit in the 1941 All-Star Game was one of his proudest moments.) Why do we only allow the previous year's World Series managers to helm the teams -- why not David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar?

Baseball, more than any other sport, thrives on its continuity. It has the longest season of any team sport and we expect to see the players on the field six days a week. Although their salaries are anything but, the best players have a blue-collar work ethic. That's why Cal Ripken's consecutive game and Joe DiMaggio's hit streaks are so cherished.

What is most disruptive about this whole event -- and what is most upsetting about the prospect of another work stoppage -- is that it breaks the cycle. The 2002 All-Star Game produced neither a winning team nor a MVP.

I still believe that we should make the game count for something. It needs to be distinguishable from the celebrity softball game that precedes it. If we don't interject a modicum of gravitas back into the game, I'm going to turn off the TV and spend the weekend playing softball. At least most of the guys on my team (who are paying to play rather than being paid), take the game seriously.

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