|Wednesday, July 10
Updated: July 12, 6:38 PM ET
Baseball's image takes another blow
By Jayson Stark
MILWAUKEE -- They played an All-Star Game on Tuesday, and nobody won. You know what that means.
It's time to start looking for somebody to blame.
So line up the usual suspects:
It's extremely important, don't you think, at times like this, that we blame somebody, anybody? Pick your villain. Call the cops. Because what happened Tuesday night at Miller Park was, very simply, a debacle for a sport that seems to be cornering the market on debacle production these days.
No matter how logical the explanations were -- from the commish, from the managers, from the emergency pitchers and their teammates -- pulling the plug on this All-Star Game ruined what could have been, what SHOULD have been, a beautiful and unforgettable showcase for everything that was great about baseball.
It's simple, really. You can't charge people 150 bucks a ticket and not play until somebody wins. You can't tell the nation that this is the only All-Star Game left that's still a real game and then tell them four hours later that it doesn't matter if anybody wins.
You can't spend an hour before the game trotting out the men responsible for some of baseball's most memorable moments -- many of them game-ending hits and homers, by the way -- and then spend 11 terrific innings setting the stage for another one of those memorable moments, and then decide, "Aw, never mind."
You can't have this happen. Can't. Period. No matter how well-meaning this decision was.
"I really had no choice," said Bud Selig.
"I apologize," said Joe Torre.
"It's an unfortunate situation," said Bob Brenly.
And we sympathize with all of them. Really.
"The last thing I want to do is get a pitcher hurt," Torre said.
"These organizations, their managers, entrust us with their players," said Brenly, whose last pitcher, the Phillies' Vicente Padilla, had trouble getting loose while warming up prior to the 10th inning. "And the last thing we want to do is send home a guy who is not going to be able to compete for the ballclub that's paying his salary."
We understand all that, too.
But what we need here, apparently, is a redefinition of what this game is. It never USED to be the object of the All-Star Game to play everybody. It USED to be the object to play the game until its proper conclusion.
It must have been, since five previous All-Star games went more innings than this one, and every one of them ended with a winner. The last one of those was just in 1987, too. And we don't recall any fan balloting since then on whether to change that object.
We guarantee you -- absolutely, positively, or your money back -- that if Randy Winn or Ugueth Urbina hadn't gotten into this game, NO ONE in the seats would have booed, thrown a beer bottle or chanted, "Bud must go."
But decide not to finish what you start? THAT was an invitation for martial law to break out. And it just about did.
"We've got to make changes," said Schilling, one of the few men you can depend on in sports to be standing there after a game like this, ready to deliver pointed opinions without even requiring you to put a quarter in his slot. "We can't let this happen."
"I've got two solutions," Schilling said. "One, increase the rosters and just tell guys that some of them won't play unless the game goes extra innings. Or two, play nine innings no matter what. Tell everybody from the start. And then, if it's tied, each team picks one guy, and you decide it with a Home Run Derby. How great would THAT be?"
Great? It's more than great. It's genius. Uh, is it too late to send Giambi and Sosa back out there? Is it too late to make Curt Schilling commissioner? Is it too late to at least ask Ralph Branca to get loose?
We'd have settled for just about any outcome Tuesday night other than the one we got -- assuming "outcome" is the proper word for it. From the moment the bottom of the 11th inning got held up so Bud could scratch his forehead and agonize, this scene turned too bizarre for words.
First off, it was a real bad idea to announce to 41,000 people that they were about to witness the final half-inning of their evening -- win, lose, draw or temporary restraining order.
"If we win the game in the bottom of the 11th and no announcement is made," said John Smoltz, "no one knows a thing about it. I think that was the way to go."
But that wasn't the way they went. So next, we had the surreal scene of seeing the potential winning run, in the person of Mike Lowell, advance to second on a single and wild pitch -- only to have the pitcher, Padilla, up there trying to drive him in.
Padilla occasionally switch-hits, when he's in the mood. (Don't ask.) But in this crucial spot -- game on the line, crowd turning ugly -- he chose to hit right-handed against a right-hander, Freddy Garcia.
Asked if he had any theories on why Padilla didn't hit left-handed, his teammate, Scott Rolen said: "Well, I had to run in and get him MY helmet. And I'm right-handed. So I don't think hitting left-handed was an option."
Padilla, of course, struck out. So that left it all up to Benito Santiago, playing in his first All-Star Game in 10 years. Santiago marched up there amid boos, hoots and a rising, not-very-complimentary chant about the commissioner. So he knew this was going to be an at-bat he'd never forget.
"I looked behind me," he said. "And somebody had a big sign: 'Tie games are only for hockey.'"
Well, not anymore, apparently. Santiago struck out to end it. So this tie game obliterated just about everything that came before it. This tie game planted one more shiner on the already-too-pockmarked face of baseball.
And worst of all, this tie game managed the theoretically impossible task of turning a thrilling, chilling, pregame ceremony from a lump-in-the-throat classic into a minor subplot.
"We had one of the best beginnings to an All-Star Game I've ever seen," said Smoltz. "And I guess some will say we had one of the worst endings to an All-Star Game we've ever seen."
Precisely. No one all night said it better -- except possibly for Bob Brenly, who wanted really badly to convince the baseball fans of America it wasn't as bad as it looked.
"They got everything you could ask for in an All-Star Game," Brenly said, "except a winner."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.