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Wednesday, January 29
Updated: January 31, 2:54 PM ET
 
All-Star Game will be better with Alderson in charge

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

You know what separates baseball from the other sports?

Yes, there's no clock. And the players have to wear hats, even when it's cloudy. And you have to refer to children as "youngsters" rather than kids.

But you know what else? People really, really care about the Hall of Fame and the All-Star Game. I mean, there's more talk about baseball's All-Star Game in the dead of winter than there is about football's Pro Bowl game the week before they play the thing. For example ...

    Rob,

    Most of the comments regarding the recent announcements from the Commissioner's Office seem to be focused on awarding home field during the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Where is the outcry regarding the announcement that Sandy Alderson will have the final say regarding who makes the All-Star team? Does this have any precedent? How about potential collusion? Will the Commish take care of the owners yet again? Leave a borderline player off to avoid paying a bonus? Throw a team a bone by giving them the added PR of an extra All-Star in exchange for backing Bud's next scheme? Where does it end?

    Regards,
    Dave

Sandy strikes again.

Sandy Alderson, who works for Bud Selig, is taking over the All-Star Game. And the funny thing is, most of us probably missed it. I certainly did, as Dave's e-mail message was the first I'd heard of this. Not that I'm particularly surprised, as Alderson's always been one to walk softly and carry a big stick. Consider: Alderson began running the Oakland Athletics in 1983, and by the late 1980s the A's were the best team in the American League. And yet, as Bill James noted in 1990, the A's media guide had "profiles of Ted Kubiak (manager at Southern Oregon), Frank Ciensczyk (equipment manager) and William Savarino III (non-roster player) -- but nothing about Alderson, nothing beyond his name and title."

Alderson continues to keep a low profile in his job with Major League Baseball, but you can't always sneak under the radar. I went to Google and ran a search on "Alderson + All-Star." And though not a lot of relevant links popped up, there was one that told the story. From January 23, a short article written by Hal Bodley for USA Today.

Look for Sandy Alderson, Major League Baseball's vice president of operations, to play a stronger role in the selection of All-Star teams. It's unlikely managers will have as much input, especially in choosing players from their own teams.

"Managers during the regular season have some involvement on how their own team's rosters are put together but not necessarily a controlling interest," Alderson said.

This is vintage Alderson. When someone does get the story and calls him for a comment, he says something that absolutely cannot be denied. It's true, managers don't determine the composition of their rosters during the regular season. So why do they suddenly, for just one game that everybody's watching, get the final say?

Well, one could argue that the managers have to manage the games, and the managers know better than anybody which players they need. But of course, Alderson's already answered that argument. And if managers really were the best at knowing which players they need, wouldn't at least a few of them have that power during the rest of the season? No, the fact is that managers don't have the perspective to make such decisions. They're too close ... just as Mike Scioscia is too close to the Angels, to be allowed to decide how many of them will be All-Stars in 2003.

In his e-mail, Dave worries about "potential collusion," with the Commissioner's Office leaving a "borderline player off to avoid paying a bonus," but that possibility is far less worrisome than what is already happening.

Think about it. All-Star bonuses are not, as a rule, huge sums. Perhaps $100,000 or so. For a baseball franchise, even in these times of fiscal restraint, $100,000 isn't that much money. And so there's little reason for the Commissioner's Office to even care if a prospective All-Star has the bonus clause in his contract.

The prospective All-Star, on the other hand, cares a lot. For at least a few of them, $100,000 is still a considerable sum of money. And more to the point, making the All-Star team is still a considerable honor for most players. So you put Mike Scioscia in an awkward position, a position in which he might have to choose between one of his own players and another, just slightly more deserving, player from another team.

So who's he going to pick? He has to live with his decision for (at least) the rest of the season, so he's probably going to pick his own guy. So you end up with five shortstops on the roster, as Joe Torre did last summer because he just couldn't bear to leave Derek Jeter off the roster.

Is having Alderson serve as a sort of "All-Star Czar" the perfect solution? No, it's probably not. But the fact is that whoever's in charge is going to be criticized, and if anybody can take the heat without flinching, it's Sandy Alderson. It's also worth noting that the Commissioner's Office or the American and National League offices have always technically had jurisdiction over the rosters. It's just that they've generally preferred to pass the buck.

Alderson might not be the new Harry Truman. But you're not likely to catch him passing a buck.

And Alderson taking over from the managers isn't the only good bit of All-Star news. According to Bodley, "The commissioner also will strongly recommend starting pitchers work at least three innings and starting position players work at least four innings."

You can argue that Commissioner Bud is taking all of these steps because he wants to improve his public image, and I won't argue with you. But in this case, does the motive really matter? What's important is the result, and I believe the result of all these steps is a better, more interesting All-Star Game.

For that, I can only say, "Thank you, Commissioner Selig."

Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason. His e-mail address is rob.neyer@dig.com.





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