|Friday, April 25
All-Star Game may have new wrinkle this year
By Jayson Stark
The All-Star Game debate is far from dead.
The union may still approve the plan to allow the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series -- on a two-year trial basis. But according to player reps who wish to remain anonymous, one thing the players are asking is that, if this game is suddenly going to be looked upon as something that significant, then it shouldn't be treated as "just an exhibition" in every other way.
For example, the players no longer want managers to be compelled to play their starters for at least three innings -- not if fan balloting continues and someone generally considered undeserving is elected to start. And they want limitations on announcers from Fox TV and ESPN radio roaming around the dugout, interviewing players during the game.
We still think that as long as the alternative is determining home-field advantage in the World Series purely based on whether it's an odd or even year, the All-Star Game proposal represents a better idea. But there are valid concerns about how much this could change the nature of the game. And players have every right to get as much as possible spelled out.
The players also consider this to be a reason to discuss the whole concept of home-field advantage in the World Series, and of the All-Star Game itself for that matter.
Players would like to see home-field advantage in the Series go to the team with the best regular-season record, as it does in the other sports. And if that change is made, there will be talk of changing the All-Star Game format to "North America" versus "The World," rather than AL versus NL.
If international marketing is going to be the key to baseball's future, there is some sentiment that a change in All-Star Game format would fit right in. But that would be tantamount to announcing to everyone that it's "only" an exhibition, and no more.
Since it's exactly that attitude that Bud Selig has been trying to dispel since his worst hometown All-Star nightmare last July, it's still possible none of this will fly. But at least that All-Star Game Tie Heard Round the World has produced a forum for discussing some larger and equally fascinating issues. So it's helpful to know that some good came of that mess.
Miscellaneous Draft Rumblings
The contract Sosa signed in March, 2001 allows him to shop himself for 30 days before picking up his own option. And some GMs are speculating he'll do just that. But Sosa's agent, Adam Katz, said he'll be making no comments on any questions involving Sosa's contract.
"That team's a mess, and it's been a mess since spring training," says one NL scout. "Aaron Boone (who now has moved back to third, at least temporarily) has done OK at second, but he's still in the wrong spot over there. Felipe Lopez has had some difficulty showing up on time. Danny Graves belongs back in the bullpen. There are a lot of questionable things going on with that team."
Nevertheless, the bludgeoning they took from the Yankees last weekend sure inspired a lot of quick conclusions that the Twins don't play with the same fire as they used to. Well, hang on.
"We certainly haven't gotten complacent," says Twins GM Terry Ryan. "We're not resting on anything we've accomplished. We just haven't gotten it going yet. That was not a good weekend. But before we start burying our club, let's get into the season a little deeper. It's too early to deduce anything yet."
The Twins' pitching depth and defense will still carry them a long ways, especially in the AL central. Torrii Hunter won't hit .216 all year. And, as Ryan observed, the really good news is, "We don't have to see the Yankees again the rest of the year, unless we're fortunate enough to be still playing in October."
"Miggy has played with a lot more adversity in his life than what's staring him in the face now," says A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta. "He's either going to be really rich or obscenely rich. So he's faced a lot worse than that."
"As good as his split is and as good as his feel for pitching is, as long as the fastball stays up in that 86-87 range, he'll be effective," says one NL scout. "That's why (his release) in Houston really raises questions. That's a team that's got real trouble in the back end of the rotation. I don't like what I've seen of (Brian) Moeller. I don't think he'll hold up physically. He hurt his forearm in spring training, and he's been pitching with it. But he hasn't had the ability to give them innings.
"If he can't go, then they have to bump (Tim) Redding and (Jerome) Robertson up to the 3 and 4 spots. And those guys aren't ready to be No. 3 and 4 starters. If they're going to win, (Roy) Oswalt and (Wade) Miller had better win all their starts."
"I've never heard a player give a talk like that," says Robert Fick, whose only previous experience with player meetings, admittedly, came in Detroit. "The way he pumped this whole team up and took control of the situation, that's the kind of leadership this team is famous for."
Even with Tom Glavine gone and the pitching staff still under construction, the Braves remain a team whose leadership starts with the pitchers. Of course, most teams don't have pitchers with the stature of Smoltz and Greg Maddux.
Twice in the last week, in the wake of Placido Polanco's injury, Bell went to manager Larry Bowa and volunteered to move from third base to second if it helped Bowa fill out his lineup card (by using Tyler Houston at third).
"I had no interest in (shifting Bell to second)," Bowa said, "because you know, that's not easy for a guy who hasn't played there at all. But he just came up to me and said, 'I know you're in a bind. So if you want me to play second, that's no problem.' This guy is a professional. All he cares about is winning."
Meanwhile, Bowa and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan are ecstatic over the newfound maturity they've seen in 22-year-old starter Brett Myers (who has a 2.88 ERA after four starts).
"He's really into it mentally now," Kerrigan says. "He wants to have a game plan. He wants to know what to do with every hitter. He's growing every week."
One reason for that is that when Millwood looked at Myers, he saw a lot of himself at the same age -- and immediately took Myers under his wing. "Brett is in Millwood's pocket every day," Bowa says. "And that has really paid off."
"That kid could be a huge addition," the scout says. "He's just a pure power guy. He can get too zoned in at times. But man, he's big and strong. Does he have holes? Yeah, he does. He's got more holes than he's showing right now. But he will hit some home runs."
But over the winter, the Yankees hired Gary Tuck away from the Indians as their catching instructor. And it could be a turning point in Posada's career. Tuck spent the spring working with Posada on his footwork. And Posada threw out five of the first 10 runners trying to steal on him -- second-best in the AL to the Royals' Brent Mayne (60 percent).
Now, at age 35, Worrell has stepped in for the seemingly irreplaceable Robb Nen and ripped off seven saves in eight opportunities. The only NL closer with more saves so far is John Smoltz (eight).
"Timmy is one of those players," says Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti, "who was going along having, by and large, a nondescript career. With San Diego. And Baltimore. And the Cubs. He was making a nice living, going from town to town. Then he got to our club, and without him there's no way we go as far as we went last season. And now he's become somebody we rely on to help us win, on a defending National League championship club. And that's a great compliment to him."
"I always thought he'd be a better player than Dunn," says a scout who goes back to the amateur days with both. "Kearns has more baseball instincts. And he's got a shorter stroke, so less can go wrong.
"Dunn has more power upside. I don't think there's any question he's capable of hitting 50 (home runs). But the other guy doesn't have a weakness. He has no holes in the strike zone. Dunn's been getting pitched up in the zone, down and away, and in tight, and I don't see any adjustments."
"The first two months," he says, "is when teams begin to define themselves and create their own identities. I'm a firm believer that two years ago, the Twins got off to a good start and finally decided they were good. They played well for a long time that year, and that feeling hasn't gone away. I see a lot of those Twins in these Royals."
On July 30, in the Florida State League, the Daytona Cubs will honor Bud Selig's birthday. How? Just wear a "tie" to the ballpark -- and get two tickets for the price of one.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.