|Monday, July 14
Clemens, Sosa snubs prove All-Star criteria is wrong
By Joe Morgan
Special to ESPN.com
The criteria for the All-Star selection process must be re-evaluated, because I don't understand some of the roster decisions made for this year's game.
If long and meritorious service doesn't count for something, then I have a problem with the process. Roger Clemens is a classic example. How can a future Hall of Famer like Clemens not be on the All-Star team in the very season he won his 300th game?
Besides, Clemens is having a solid season (3.75 ERA, 8-6 record). Apparently, long and meritorious service is overlooked. (Editor's note: Clemens was named a last-minute All-Star replacement Monday for Oakland's Barry Zito.)
Sammy Sosa is a perfect example of this. Sosa has made tremendous contributions to the game of baseball. He and Mark McGwire helped save baseball, which was still reeling from the 1994 strike, with their home-run race for the ages in '98.
By Sosa's standards, his numbers are down this year, but they're still good (.292-15 HR-45 RBI). Plus, he was beaned by a pitch and he spent time on the disabled list.
Those missed games should factor less than his contributions to the game. Sosa's All-Star track record should count for something, too. If he gets hot in the second half, he could end up with 50 home runs.
To me, if you choose your roster based only on the first half of the season, that isn't a true All-Star team. Half of a season gets you media attention, but it doesn't make you an All-Star. An All-Star is a player who performs well for full seasons over the course of a career, not just one-half of a particular season. The main exception I would make is for rookies and other younger players who haven't had the opportunity to establish themselves as proven performers. For them, the first half should count more.
Pitcher Dontrelle Willis fits into this category -- and he should be an NL All-Star. The Florida Marlins rookie sensation is 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA! He's an exciting young star, and Major League Baseball needs to showcase up-and-coming players. I don't understand why he's been overlooked.
Position Players Shouldn't Vote For Pitchers
But I see a problem with player voting -- especially when position players vote for pitchers. Clemens is not popular with many of the batters he faces. A batter who has been plunked or brushed back by Clemens isn't likely to vote for him. Bob Gibson wasn't popular in his day, either. You can be sure hitters wouldn't have voted for him!
In fact, I don't think you could ever get batters to vote for Clemens. He has been an intimidator throughout his career, and that's part of what makes him a great pitcher. Pedro Martinez is similar. After he hit Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano recently, do you think any Yankee would vote for him?
I do think that players should have a vote, but only pitchers can vote fairly for other pitchers. Otherwise, leave the selection of pitchers in the hands of the managers. Too much animosity can build up over time in the competition between hitters and pitchers. I could tell you about lots of pitchers I didn't like (but I won't). It's only human nature that this would influence one's judgment in an All-Star voting process.
The All-Star selection process never has been perfect, and with these added features it's still an imperfect system. I can't devise a perfect system, but this one definitely can be improved.
Give Priority To Players From World Series Teams
While every team should be represented, I believe that deserving players from the World Series teams should be given priority. The All-Star Game now is all about honoring individual accomplishment, but team accomplishment should also be factored in. And the players from the best teams -- the reigning world champions and the runners-up -- should be given more weight in All-Star selections.
In other words, in a close roster contest between two players, the one from the World Series champion ought to get the nod.
Furthermore, when it comes to selecting All-Star pitchers, starters should be given priority over relievers. The starter logs the big innings, while the closer gets in the game only if his team is ahead. This year's AL roster has six starters and six relievers, and you can make a case that Yankees starters David Wells (11-3, 3.76 ERA) or Mike Mussina (10-5, 3.14 ERA) deserve a spot. The NL roster has a better distribution, with eight starters and five relievers.
As far as the winning league getting home-field advantage in the World Series, it's a gimmick that I hope doesn't last beyond the planned two-year experiment. Nor should home-field advantage in the Series be determined by best overall record -- unbalanced schedules make this an unfair solution. The best approach, it seems to me, is to go back to alternating years. For more details, see my recent column on this topic.
Ultimately, regardless of all the bells and whistles MLB adds to the All-Star Game -- World Series home-field, players voting, fan Internet voting for the final two spots, etc. -- we need to always remember one thing: The game is about the players. And what the players do on the field is what will make the game memorable.
Chat Reminder: I'll answer your questions in an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.
An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series and MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76. He was the MVP of the 1972 All-Star Game.