King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Baseball has "fixed" the All-Star "problem" by making the game "meaningful." But how much can an All-Star Game mean if it includes Armando Benitez?

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After last-year’s civilization-endangering All-Star fiasco, which really bothered you at the time but now you can’t quite recall, Major League Baseball made some changes that in typical Major League Baseball fashion did not address the problem at hand.

The game ended in a tie when both teams ran out of players, a predictable outcome when both managers try to get every player into the game and then the game goes into extra innings. In response to the outcry — you really were mad, remember? — baseball began a two-year experiment in which the league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series. The idea is to make the game more “meaningful,” even though most players involved already know they have little or no chance of their team making the World Series.

We’ll see next Tuesday in Chicago if the players take the game more seriously, but did you notice the change of subject there? The problem was that the game ended in a tie because the teams ran out of players. So why did the solution address the players not caring enough about the game? I think the players not caring about the game is what makes it fun most of the time. Carefree players led to that Barry Bonds wrestling move on Torii Hunter last year, or Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra imitating each other in the batter’s box, or John Kruk’s hilarious reaction to seeing Randy Johnson for the first time.

Players caring gave us Ted Williams breaking his elbow chasing a fly ball and Pete Rose smashing into Ray Fosse and ruining his career. In an exhibition game. Which is better?

Baseball also increased the roster size from 30 to 32, as if to say “OK, try to get THIS many players in the game, Skip,” and gave the players, managers and coaches some say in choosing the reserves.

Nothing was done about the game starting so late that no kid in the Eastern time zone could watch past the fifth inning without serious child-welfare issues arising, nor about the Disneyfied, Children of the World Running Around and Twirling Ribbons While Unctuous French Horn Music Bleats in the Background pre-game ceremonies that have become an inescapable element of all major sporting events. The stupid rule requiring every team to be represented by at least one player, no matter how undeserving that player might be or how deserving the player whose spot he takes, still stands.



And of course, the commissioner’s office didn’t say to the managers, in the case of this year’s game Dusty Baker of the Cubs and Mike Scioscia of the Angels, “Yo, knock it off with the getting everyone in the game business,” which would have solved that running-out-of-players problem toot sweet.

The All-Star rosters were announced Sunday night, and while the fans seem to do a better job every year of picking the right guys, there were some strange choices by the players, coaches and managers. Armando Benitez of the Mets is an All-Star. I don’t think you need to know more than that to know that something is very, very wrong.

Here are the starting lineups as chosen by the fans:

American League: Carlos Delgado of Toronto at first, Alfonso Soriano of New York at second, Alex Rodriguez of Texas at short and Troy Glaus of Anaheim at third; Jorge Posada of New York catching; Manny Ramirez of Boston, Hideki Matsui of New York and Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle in the outfield; Edgar Martinez of Seattle at designated hitter.

I picked Delgado at first, but I had Bret Boone of Seattle at second, Nomar Garciaparra of Boston at short and Hank Blalock of Texas at third. Soriano, A-Rod and Glaus were all my second choices, though, as was Posada at catcher, behind Boston’s Jason Varitek. Except for Blalock over Glaus, I thought all of those were pretty close. In the outfield I had Ramirez with Melvin Mora of Baltimore and Garret Anderson of Anaheim.

I don’t agree at all with the fans’ choice of Ichiro, the A.L. vote leader, and Matsui. I’ve warmed to Ichiro in the last couple of years since I wrote a piece saying his little half-swings bugged me, but I still don’t think he’s having an All-Star year. Matsui has a lot of RBIs, but I don’t think he’s playing anywhere close to an All-Star level. Martinez is always the hands-down choice at D.H., and I suppose that’s fine. I just think Frank Thomas of Chicago is having a better year.

National League: Todd Helton of Colorado at first, Marcus Giles of Atlanta at second, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen of St. Louis at short and third; Javy Lopez of Atlanta catching; Barry Bonds of San Francisco, Albert Pujols of St. Louis and Gary Sheffield of Atlanta in the outfield.

I think the fans did pretty well here too, but I have to say something about Todd Helton, who I think may be the most overrated player in big league history. Every year he puts up monster numbers, but most of that is created by offensively silly Coors Field in Denver. On the road this year, he’s hitting .280 with three homers, 23 RBIs and an OPS of .808. That sound like an All-Star to you? And it’s not unusual. Throughout his career, Coors Field has annually given Helton roughly an extra six home runs, 27 RBIs, 90 points of batting average and on-base percentage and almost 200 points of slugging average. Away from Denver, he’s a nice player, but nothing special.

I had Jeff Kent of Houston at second, not Giles, who’s fine. And I had Mike Lowell of Florida over Rolen, who would have been my backup. Otherwise my N.L. lineup looked like the fans’, except I had Jim Edmonds of St. Louis in the third outfield spot instead of Sheffield, though Sheffield’s just as good a choice.

So what did the baseball insiders do?

The American League bench has Ramon Hernandez of Oakland at catcher. I’ll take Varitek. The infielders are Mike Sweeney of Kansas City, Boone, Blalock and Garciaparra. No arguments there, since I had those last three as starters and Sweeney’s having a good year — for a good team for once. I’d add Thomas, who would get in as a first baseman on my team since he’s not the starting D.H.

The reserve outfielders are Carl Everett of Chicago, Dmitri Young of Detroit and Vernon Wells of Toronto, plus Anderson and Mora. Young is in because there has to be a Tiger. My roster had Milton Bradley of Cleveland for the same reason, and didn’t include Everett or Wells. Since there are other White Sox and Blue Jays, I’d have taken Eric Byrnes of Oakland and Aubrey Huff of Tampa Bay before those two.

In the National League, Paul Lo Duca of Los Angeles is the backup catcher. I don’t see the appeal of that guy. I’ll take Ivan Rodriguez of Florida. The backup infielders are Richie Sexson of Milwaukee, Vidro, Aaron Boone of Cincinnati, Rafael Furcal of Atlanta and Lowell. The reserve outfielders are Luis Gonzalez of Arizona, Andruw Jones of Atlanta, Preston Wilson of Colorado, Rondell White of San Diego and Edmonds.

Sexson, Boone, Wilson and White are there as their teams’ only representative. Only Sexson makes my roster from that list, as an infield reserve with Vidro, Furcal, Lowell and Kent. My reserve outfielders are Edmonds, Gonzalez and Jones, plus Brian Giles of Pittsburgh and Richard Hidalgo of Houston, who I picked from a group of guys having similar years because I think he’s having the best year I can remember anyone having immediately after being shot in the offseason, and ought to get something for that.

I can’t believe the players didn’t pick Brian Giles, a superb player having a fine year. It’s even worse because Giles is the only Pirate worthy of an All-Star bid. Instead his team’s representative will be Mike Williams, one of the usual legion of closers chosen because they have a lot of saves. Williams has 24 of them, which does nothing to hide the fact that he’s having an atrocious year, with an earned-run average of 6.29 that isn’t even a little bit misleading.

The other National League closers picked were John Smoltz of Atlanta, Eric Gagne of Los Angeles, Billy Wagner of Houston and Armando Benitez of New York, which ought to give Mets fans a heart attack. That’s because Mets fans think Benitez is having the year that Williams is having.

But that’s five closers on the All-Star team. The A.L. has four closers. What other position in baseball sends so many people to the All-Star Game? Can you imagine five third basemen from one league making it? Of course not. Smoltz and Gagne are having All-Star years. The others, like most closers, are just ordinary relievers who pile up saves, a meaningless statistic. For that, they’re overpaid and over-honored.

The N.L. starting pitchers are Kevin Brown of Los Angeles, Shawn Chacon of Colorado, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood of Chicago, Woody Williams of St. Louis, Jason Schmidt of San Francisco, Russ Ortiz of Atlanta and Randy Wolf of Philadelphia. I had all of them on my roster except Wood and Ortiz. In their place I picked Brown’s teammate Hideo Nomo and Steve Trachsel of New York, who I chose as the lone Met so I wouldn’t have to have Benitez on my team. In place of Benitez, Wagner and Williams, I had a pair of middle relievers — I like to think of them as closers without saves — Octavio Dotel of Houston and Kent Mercker of Cincinnati, who makes it as my only Red. He’s no more qualified than Aaron Boone, but this way I get to have Kent on the team.

The A.L. starters are Esteban Loaiza of Chicago, Roy Halladay of Toronto, Jamie Moyer of Seattle, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito of Oakland and C.C. Sabathia of Cleveland. I had the first four, but not the last two. Instead I had Gil Meche of Seattle, Sidney Ponson of Baltimore and Mike Mussina and David Wells of New York. Something’s funny when I’m picking more Yankees for the All-Star Game than are actually going to be there.

The four closers on the team are Eddie Guardado of Minnesota, Keith Foulke of Oakland, Mike MacDougal of Kansas City and Lance Carter, the token Tampa Bay Devil Ray. I’ll take Foulke and MacDougal and throw the other two back. The insiders should get some love for taking two middle relievers, Brendan Donnelly of Anaheim and Shigetoshi Hasegawa of Seattle. They’re both fine choices, but I had Donnelly and Al Levine of Tampa Bay, who I’d rather have as the token Devil Ray than Carter, just to keep another “closer” off the team.

You’ll notice that Roger Clemens’ name is absent, which surprised me. I figured that since he’s said he’s going to retire and he just got his 300th win, he’d get a lifetime achievement All-Star invite, the way Cal Ripken Jr. did in his last year. And Clemens is actually having a decent year, though it’s not an All-Star year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Clemens gets that invite by way of the fans, who get to name the 32nd and last player in each league by Internet vote.

If the fans don’t pick Clemens, maybe he can twirl a ribbon in the pre-game ceremonies.

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