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When it was a game ...
that mattered

Page 2

This may come as a surprise to younger fans but there was a time when baseball's All-Star Game meant something.

Joe Torre
Don't let Joe Torre, or any manager, get carried away with his All-Star selections.
No, seriously. I had the pleasure of interviewing several Hall of Fame players about their All-Star memories Monday and almost without exception, the old National Leaguers recalled their lengthy winning streak and the inspiring pregame speeches given by league president Chub Feeney.

Now, either Feeney was some inspirational cross between Vince Lombardi, Knute Rockne and Tony Robbins, or the players genuinely cared about the game's outcome in those days.

Or maybe Pete Rose bet heavily on the National League all those years.

Whatever the reason, the point is players and fans alike used to care passionately about the All-Star Game's outcome. No longer. For years, the All-Star Game has been deteriorating more steadily than Gary Condit's political future.

The only things the fans care about anymore are the Home Run Derby and complaining about Joe Torre's All-Star selections. The fans lose interest by the first pitch, while the players are concerned mostly about leaving the game early enough to catch a late flight home.

Baseball's All-Star Game remains the one fans look forward to most, but like Morganna's chest, it isn't what it used to be.

Fortunately, baseball can restore the All-Star Game to its former greatness. You don't need to change the fan vote. You don't need to dump the Home Run Derby. You don't need to do anything except make these five needed changes.

1. Expand the rosters. Baseball has expanded six times since 1960, adding 14 teams to the original 16, yet the All-Star rosters have barely increased at all. Small wonder that so many players get left off the roster each summer. It's easy to make everyone happy just by adding five to eight roster spots.

Then don't worry about getting them all in the game. Concentrate on winning first. As Curt Schilling says, players are just happy to be invited to the All-Star Game. Their feelings aren't hurt if they don't get to play.

And even if they are, so what? The $50,000 incentive bonus most players receive compensates for a lot of hurt feelings.

2. Dump the minimum representation. Greg Vaughn is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays All-Star representative this year, but he will not play because of injury. I doubt even his own family will miss him.

Greg Vaughn
Honestly, will anyone miss Greg Vaughn at this year's midsummer classic?
Baseball floats the laughable contraction rumor, saying that the game might be better off without the Devil Rays or the Expos. But at the same time it says the All-Star Game can't be played without their presence. So which is it? Are the Devil Rays superfluous or vital?

Look, just because fans in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh have to suffer through their awful players six months a year is no reason the rest of us must endure them for even one night.

3. Don't let Joe Torre pick the team.

Or any manager for that matter.

Ask any All-Star manager and they all complain about the chore of picking the All-Star reserves. For good reason. It's a thankless, no-win job, not unlike selling season tickets in Montreal. No matter who a manager picks, someone will complain he picked too many players from one team and snubbed too many from another.

There are just too many personal biases and conflicts of interest -- even when Bobby Valentine isn't involved -- to leave this up to a manager whose first goal always is to keep his own players happy. So end the managers' misery and add some impartiality to the affair by letting the league office pick the reserves.

4. Make winning important again. Do you remember when Rose barreled into catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game? Of course you do. Fans who can't remember their PIN numbers remember that moment, perhaps the most dramatic in All-Star history.

The fans lose interest by the first pitch, while the players are concerned mostly about leaving the game early enough to catch a late flight home.

Such a play would never happen today, because players don't care enough about winning the game. With free agency and interleague play, leagues are so familiar with each other that there no longer is an urge to slap the other guys around.

So provide some new motivation. Commissioner Bud Selig suggested letting the winning All-Star team decide who gets home-field advantage in the World Series. That's a good idea, but better yet, let the winner decide whether the designated hitter rule is used. Do that and you instantly increase everyone's interest.

Especially if you let Roger Clemens throw out the first beanball.

5. Pit the United States against the world. When in doubt, wave the flag more visibly than Orrin Hatch.

With interleague play and the consolidation of league offices, the National League-American League rivalry barely exists anymore. So steal a page from the Futures Game to give fans and players a different matchup instead. Every couple of years turn the All-Star Game into a World Cup between Americans and players from around the globe.

Baseball wants to hold a true World Cup but just can't figure out when to hold it. Here's their chance. Imagine. Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. in the outfield for the U.S. team, Ichiro and Sammy Sosa for the world. Randy Johnson on the mound for the United States., Pedro Martinez on the mound for the world and Clemens on the mound for Mars.

That's a drastic step, I know. But it certainly beats this year's matchup of the National League against the Mariners and Yankees.

Whatever baseball does, it needs to do something to turn the All-Star Game back into the midsummer classic. It's time to make the All-Star Game a stage for drama again, rather than a venue for hawking overpriced memorabilia.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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