The 2002 All-Star Game in Bud Selig's hometown of Milwaukee was to be his shining moment. The MLB commissioner and longtime owner of the Milwaukee Brewers had brought the game to Miller Park, the gleaming second-year stadium built with $290 million of public funds extracted from a five-county sales tax.
He was a hometown hero, the man who had brought major league baseball back to Milwaukee in 1970 and then saved the Brewers. He not only saved the Brewers, he might tell you, he had saved baseball -- even if he had sacrificed a World Series back in 1994 to do so.
Instead, Selig's crowning achievement turned into a nightmare. It left perhaps the lasting image of his regime as commissioner: Selig throwing up his arms -- literally -- in 11th inning of a tie game after the umpires told him both All-Star teams had run out of pitchers. As the game wound down, Brewers fans rained a chorus of boos on Selig, chanting "Let them play!" and "Bud must go!"
It began innocently enough. Derek Lowe (12-4, 2.36 ERA) of the Boston Red Sox started against Curt Schilling (14-3, 3.08 ERA) of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The National League lineup featured a murderers' row of Todd Helton, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Piazza and Scott Rolen. The American League lineup included Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano of the New York Yankees. The benches included the usual array of "He made the All-Star team?" All-Stars: Robert Fick, Randy Winn, Tony Batista, Junior Spivey and Damian Miller, among others. The AL staff had eight pitchers available in the bullpen; the NL staff had nine. Keep those numbers in mind.
In the bottom of the first, Torii Hunter robbed Bonds of a home run -- evoking a smile even from Bonds. But the San Francisco Giants slugger would get his revenge, bashing a two-run homer off Roy Halladay in the third to give the NL a 4-0 lead.
The AL began chipping away. Meanwhile, managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly mindlessly ran through pitchers. Lowe and Mark Buerhle would work two innings for the AL, but Barry Zito and Eddie Guardado combined for just three outs. The AL took a 6-5 lead in the seventh with four runs off Mike Remlinger and Byung-Hyun Kim, as Paul Konerko hit the go-ahead two-run double. But Lance Berkman's two-run single off Kaz Sasaki in the bottom of the seventh gave the NL the lead again. The back-and-forth game was certainly shaping up to be one of the most exciting in All-Star history. Fick's single and Omar Vizquel's triple in the eighth knotted the score.
Now Torre and Brenly were in some trouble. Torre was down to three pitchers, Brenly two. They weren't doing anything different from other managers in recent years. In 2001, both teams used nine pitchers. In 2000, both teams used eight pitchers. This idea of using every pitcher on the staff took root at some point in the early '90s. (This article suggests the All-Star Game's decline was a result of the 1993 contest in Baltimore, when Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston declined to use Mike Mussina of the Orioles, upsetting the hometown fans. Even though the AL won 9-3, the players were booed off the field as the game ended.) Back in the 1987 All-Star Game, for example, the NL used Mike Scott, Rick Sutcliffe and Orel Hershiser to get through six innings, while the AL used Bret Saberhagen, Jack Morris and Mark Langston to get through seven. The game went 13 innings, and while the NL was down to the last of its eight pitchers by then (yes, just eight), the AL still had two of its nine in reserve.
Now managers haphazardly change pitchers after a third of an inning or two-thirds. Torre, knowing he was running out of pitchers and the game was tied, used Ugueth Urbina for just 11 pitches in the eighth and Mariano Rivera for just 14 pitches in the ninth. John Smoltz threw eight pitches in the ninth and was replaced by a pinch hitter. The two staffs were down to Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners and Vicente Padilla of the Philadelphia Phillies.
In the 11th, the AL had a runner on second with one out, but Garcia grounded out and Batista flew out. That's when the umpires came over and explained the situation to Selig. The iconic gesture. If the NL didn't score in the bottom of the 11th, the result would go down as a tie. The PA announcer explained the situation. The crowd booed. With one out and a runner on second, Padilla struck out. Benito Santiago struck out to end it. No winner. No loser. Lots of boos from the fans. Some threw trash on the field. "I want to apologize to the fans," Selig said.
The outcry was furious. Baseball's solution: Starting in 2003, the winning league would get home-field advantage for the World Series. This would hopefully -- it was believed -- lead to the All-Star Game becoming more competitive again. Rosters were eventually expanded to 34, with teams carrying a minimum of 13 pitches. Starters who pitch on Sunday are now replaced on the roster. The DH is used in all parks.
No way you can run out of pitchers again, right? Well, sure, it could happen again. The 2008 game went 15 innings and both teams were down to their last guy. Last year, no pitcher threw more than one inning. The NL used 10 pitchers in eight innings, the AL used 11 in nine. If the game had gone to extra innings, both teams could have easily run out of pitchers.