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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to save the All-Star Game

A. Bring in Major League career saves leader Trevor Hoffman, or ...




B. Follow my simple (OK, not so simple) plan.

Ever since the public relations disaster that was the tie in the 2002 All-Star Game, damn near every sports columnist, radio talk show host and blogger has, in the days leading up to the game each year, come up with some kind of idea to fix the Midsummer Classic. Even baseball itself came up with a plan, declaring in 2003 that home field advantage in the World Series would be awarded to the league that won the All-Star Game. Most of the columnists, radio talk show hots and bloggers have derided the move as inequitable to the teams that wind up making the World Series and adding unnecessary significance to what had always been an exhibition. But awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game is just as arbitrary as awarding it to the American League just because it's an even-numbered year, or the National League because it's an odd-numbered year, as was the case previously. And it's clear that some incentive must be given to players who have become increasingly apathetic and unwilling to participate in the event, and managers who have decided its better to have emptied their benches and given everyone an at-bat than to have kept the players that provide the best chance to win the game in the lineup.

But, with the fifth All-Star Game with home-field advantage on the line set for Tuesday in San Francisco, it's clear the mission has not been accomplished. The game still lacks the pizazz and passion it had in its first half-century of existence. In this era of interleague play and 24-hour media exposure, the notion of seeing the game's best players at the same time has lost its novelty, and perhaps the All-Star Game will never be the spectacle it once was. But it can be better than it is.

So, here's what to do. Examine the etymology of the term All-Star Game. What defines star? Must a player simply be good to be a star, or must he be better or more transcendent than others to truly achieve such a designation? The Yankees are a team of stars, yes, but who is the star of the Yankees? It has always been a rule in the All-Star Game that every team must have a representative. This is a much-maligned dictum, but it has survived years of criticism and expansion. This is no coincidence. Every team has a star, someone who is a notch above the others, someone who fans want to follow, someone whose face appears on the posters in Little Leaguers' rooms, no matter how egalitarian, how good or how bad the team is. There is a star of the Kansas City Royals. There is a star of the Philadelphia Phillies. There is a star of the Yankees, and the Mets, and the Angels, and so on. So why not make the All-Star Game just that: a game between all the stars?

The National League has 16 teams and the American League has 14 teams, which presents our first problem. So, give the American League side two wild card selections to offset the inequity. So, 16 players a side, which is more than most teams use in an average game, particularly when you have a DH, as we should have in every All-Star Game (this is actually the only time the DH should ever be used, but that's another argument). That would be enough to have a nine-player batting lineup, a starter and four relievers, and a pair of bench players, one of whom should always be a catcher in case of injury (you wouldn't want some team's star 3rd baseman to hurt himself strapping on a chest protector for the first time since he was 6, for instance). So the starters will, for the most part, stay in the game, but there will be enough pitchers so that no one's arm gets taxed.

But say the game goes extra innings, as was the case in 2002. Wouldn't you run out of players just as you did then? Not if you name alternates. Designate a pitcher and batter for each league that become eligible in the 10th inning, another pitcher and batter if it goes 11, and so forth, until you reach a total of 16 alternates per side, which would raise the number of all-stars to 32 per side, just as it is now. This would serve the dual purpose of placating the players union, which will want to make sure as many of its members can call themselves All-Stars as possible, and ensuring enough players for a 17-inning game, which ought to be sufficient to determine a winner. If not, well ... look, by 3 a.m., I'm sure everyone involved will be happy to call it a tie as long as you let them go to bed, or, in the case of the players, get to the strip clubs before they close.

So what might the rosters look like this year if this were the case? Well, let's see ...

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Starters
P Jake Peavy (San Diego)
C Russell Martin (Los Angeles)
1B Dmitri Young (Washington)
2B Freddy Sanchez (Pittsburgh)
SS Jose Reyes (New York)
3B Miguel Cabrera (Florida)
OF Ken Griffey (Cincinnati)
OF Barry Bonds (San Francisco)
OF Alfonso Soriano (Chicago)
DH Matt Holliday (Colorado)
Bench
UT Albert Pujols (St. Louis)
C Brian McCann (Atlanta)
Bullpen
P Brandon Webb (Arizona)
P Ben Sheets (Milwaukee)
P Cole Hamels (Philadelphia)
P Roy Oswalt (Houston)
Alternates
P Billy Wagner (New York)
P Jose Valverde (Arizona)
P Takashi Saito (Los Angeles)
P Trevor Hoffman (San Diego)
P Francisco Cordero (Milwaukee)
P Brad Penny (Los Angeles)
P Chris Young (San Diego)
OF Aaron Rowand (Philadelphia)
OF Carlos Beltran (New York)
OF Carlos Lee (Houston)
SS J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee)
1B Derrek Lee (Chicago)
2B Orlando Hudson (Arizona)
3B David Wright (New York)
2B Chase Utley (Philadelphia)
1B Prince Fielder (Milwaukee)

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Starters
P Dan Haren (Oakland)
C Victor Martinez (Cleveland)
1B Justin Morneau (Minnesota)
2B Brian Roberts (Baltimore)
SS Michael Young (Texas)
3B Alex Rodriguez (New York)
OF Vladimir Guerrero (Los Angeles)
OF Magglio Ordonez (Detroit)
OF Alex Rios (Toronto)
DH David Ortiz (Boston)
Bench
OF Carl Crawford (Tampa Bay)
C Jorge Posada (New York-Wild Card)
Bullpen
P Gil Meche (Kansas City)
P Bobby Jenks (Chicago)
P J.J. Putz (Seattle)
P Josh Beckett (Boston-Wild Card)
Alternates
P Johan Santana (Minnesota)
P John Lackey (Los Angeles)
P C.C. Sabathia (Cleveland)
P Justin Verlander (Detroit)
P Jonathan Papelbon (Boston)
P Francisco Rodriguez (Los Angeles)
P Hideki Okajima (Boston)
C Ivan Rodriguez (Detroit)
2B Placido Polanco (Detroit)
SS Derek Jeter (New York)
OF Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle)
SS Carlos Guillen (Detroit)
3B Mike Lowell (Boston)
OF Torii Hunter (Minnesota)
OF Manny Ramirez (Boston)
OF Grady Sizemore (Cleveland)

Oh, and one more thing ... have Erin Andrews as the sideline reporter, no matter which network is broadcasting the game. Journalism be damned!

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