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Thursday, July 11
 
In a tie, baseball loses again

By Joe Morgan
Special to ESPN.com

Well, it finally happened: The All-Star Game, a game created for the fans, has proven that it isn't.

Tuesday's game was an embarrassment to baseball and to past All-Stars who played to win the game. Because the emphasis is now placed on getting every player in the game, the Midsummer Classic has been reduced to a meaningless exhibition.

A tie game? There are no ties in baseball. Maybe in football and hockey, but not baseball. Yet now we have a tie in -- of all things -- the game that is supposed to be a showcase for the both the sport and the fans.

Baseball's next feat?
During my first year in the big leagues, one of my teammates, Bob Lillis, told me, "Joe, baseball has to be the greatest game in the world because it has survived all the idiots who have run it all these years and still bounced back." And it has. The game bounced back after the strike in 1994. The fans returned to the game, and they were vocal in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Great individual feats have helped the game recover -- like Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chasing, and breaking, Roger Maris' home-run record. But the uniqueness of those feats has worn off. When Barry Bonds chased and then passed McGwire with 73 home runs last season, it didn't generate nearly the same excitement.

Could any other individual accomplishments help save the game from its outside distractions? Probably not. In today's game, I don't think anyone can hit .400 or challenge Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak because pitching has become too specialized.

Other than a final day of pennant-deciding games, the only feat capable of capitivating us in the second half could be Curt Schilling's pursuit of 30 wins. The only problem is that he pitches every fifth day and may not get enough starts.

Schilling is 14-3; if he only gets 16 starts in the second half, he would have to win each outing. And it's hard enough for a pitcher to win 20 games now, let alone 30.
-- Joe Morgan

I'm glad the fans at Miller Park were vehement in their disapproval. Although they were asked to be understanding, why should they understand? They paid $175 or more for their tickets -- and saw a tie.

I had to fly to Los Angeles early Wednesday morning, and I pulled up at the hotel at the same time as Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton. He and his friends asked me, "Who won the game?" I said, "It was a tie." And Gary said, "You mean the AL tied it in the bottom of the ninth." I said, "Yeah." He said, "But then who won?" I just told them it was a tie, but they couldn't believe it -- "What do you mean, 'a tie'?"

All-Star managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly each had one pitcher left after nine innings, Seattle's Freddy Garcia and Philadelphia's Vicente Padilla respectively. But the fans were sent home without an outcome because Torre and Brenly had used every other pitcher and didn't want Garcia and Padilla to get hurt.

Garcia and Padilla make their living as pitchers. How are they more likely to hurt themselves in the All-Star Game than they would be pitching seven or eight innings during their next starts this weekend?

I understand Torre's and Brenly's reasoning; they felt their fellow managers would be upset if they used any of the pitchers too long. But the All-Star Game is not about any individual team or player. It's about Major League Baseball and its fans.

The players and managers at the All-Star Game must forget about their teams back home and remember why they are there -- for the fans, for the good of the game, and to heighten interest for the second half. In Milwaukee, Garcia and Padilla were performing for their leagues, for Major League Baseball and for the fans, not for the Mariners and the Phillies.

Tuesday's unfortunate ending could have been avoided, starting with the makeup of each team. Expanding the rosters is not the answer and would make things worse because the managers would try to get even more players into the game. Instead, they need to choose the right players, meaning fewer relief pitchers and more starting pitchers.

Torre had four closers (Eddie Guardado, Mariano Rivera, Sasaki and Ugueth Urbina), while Brenly had six closers (Mike Williams, Eric Gagne, Trevor Hoffman, Byung-Hyun Kim, Robb Nen and John Smoltz) and one setup man (Mike Remlinger). Because the relief pitchers are used to pitching only one inning, the managers pin themselves into a corner. Plus, the save is an overglorified statistic, one not as important as wins and losses or innings pitched.

Both managers needed starting pitchers who could pitch two innings or more, as they used to do in the All-Star Game. In the past, if the National League team had Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale, that was all it needed.

When I played in the 1970 All-Star Game, one of the greatest ever, the NL used five pitchers -- Tom Seaver, Jim Merritt, Gaylord Perry, Gibson and Claude Osteen -- and still had three more on the bench -- Wayne Simpson, Hoyt Wilhelm and Joe Hoerner -- when the game ended in the 12th inning. Again, the managers tried to win the game, not to play everyone.

At the same time, the fans deserve to see the game's biggest stars play much longer than they do. The fans want to see more of players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi and Ichiro, but they rarely hit more than twice. In fact, the only starting players to hit three times Tuesday were Scott Rolen and Jorge Posada. Bonds hit one home run, had another one taken away and then was out of the game.

As the game was ending, I was at the Milwaukee airport with Cal Ripken, who told me he played the entire game in 1994, when Moises Alou won it with an RBI double. Likewise, in 1972, I ended up being the game's MVP because I played the whole game and drove in the game-winning run with a hit off McNally in the 10th inning.

Our manager, Pittsburgh's Danny Murtaugh, told us, "I'm going to play our best players until we win the game." I took it as a compliment. Plus, I wanted to play the entire game.

I admit that it is tougher for today's players to go to the All-Star Game. In the past, the players practiced on Monday and played the game on Tuesday. Now, from the time they arrive until game time, the players are involved in far more All-Star-related activities than I was as a player. The two-day event takes a toll on the players.

Nevertheless, their objective should remain the same -- win the game. Ripken told me he enjoyed the All-Star Game much more when it was competitive. I remember one All-Star manager in the last 10 years saying he was going to try to play every player. Somehow, that has become the theme for the games that have followed.

The league president used to enter the clubhouse and make a speech, telling us to win the game for the National League. But since there are no longer league presidents, that role should fall on the commissioner. From now on, Selig needs to instruct each All-Star manager to play the game to win and to not worry about getting every player in the game. If the commissioner removed the burden from the managers, then the game may be played differently in the future.

Tuesday's game was yet another black eye for Selig. When I spoke to him once about more managerial opportunities for minorities, I told him, "Bud, I understand part of your problem. When you are so busy putting out fires, you can never move forward." And during his time as commissioner, that is what Selig has been doing -- putting out fires with the players' union, over contraction and over steroids. And now the All-Star Game is another log thrown into the flame.

Of the problems Selig faces, the All-Star Game may be the simplest one to handle. But the scar will linger. Instead of fading away, the effects of Tuesday's outcome may grow worse as time goes by. And no matter how forcefully the fans condemn baseball's actions, they won't force the game's problems to get resolved any quicker. If that were the case, the 1994 World Series would have never been cancelled.

Although the All-Star mess is smaller in magnitude than the World Series cancellation, they are the same -- things that baseball handled improperly. It's like robbing a small bank or a big bank; both are still wrong.

Before baseball can move forward and return the focus to the game on the field, the onus is on the commissioner's office to revamp its strategy for promoting the game, to improve its relationship with the players' union and to run the game better than it did Tuesday night.

Yet even if Major League Baseball is able to extinguish each fire individually, people will still point to July 9, 2002, as the day baseball once again hit the bottom.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is a baseball analyst for ESPN and contributes a weekly column for ESPN.com.






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