Tuesday's All-Star Game was one of the best in recent memory while it lasted, a see-saw affair that went into extra innings, with various displays of pitching, fielding and hitting brilliance. But when it was called a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, both teams having run out of pitchers, the fans in Milwaukee booed and cursed, and baseball had screwed it up again.
Now we will have all kinds of debate about how we can avoid this situation in the future. At the postgame press conference, commissioner Bud Selig was already talking about having to expand the All-Star rosters. This is a move that's sure to happen, because almost everybody likes the idea of expanded rosters. Put more guys on the team, and it becomes more likely that my favorite guy will make the team.
Of course, like most of Selig's solutions to baseball's problems, this won't address the problem.
The problem is that All-Star managers want to get all of their players into the game. They'll try to do that if the roster is 30 men or 32 or 35 or 40. With skillful substitutions, it can be done. But if the manager wants to get everyone in the game, he has to get them in before the ninth inning ends, because he can't count on extra innings. So if the game does go into extra frames, he's out of luck.
That's what happened Tuesday. Both Bob Brenly of the National League and Joe Torre of the American League used all their players in the first nine innings except one emergency leftover pitcher, Vicente Padilla of the Phillies for the N.L., Freddy Garcia of the Mariners for the A.L. By the 11th, those two had both gone two innings. It would have been unfair to them and to their teams to ask them to pitch for the duration, when it wasn't their regular day to start and they had prepared themselves to pitch only an inning or two. These guys have regular jobs, you know, in real games, which resume Thursday.
"These organizations and other managers entrust us with their players," Brenly said. "We have to make sure we don't do anything that could hurt them."
But the eminently reasonable calling of the game was a great example of baseball's tin ear when it comes to the fans. The Miller Park announcer told the crowd in the bottom of the 11th that the game would end in a tie if the National League didn't score in that half inning. The fans, who had paid real money to see a real baseball game, which to most people means a game played until a winner is determined, booed.
I think the fans would have been more understanding if the situation had been explained. There's no more pitchers. The game can't go on.
Maybe not. Maybe they'd have booed anyway. But they were chanting "Let them play," which tells me that the feeling in the ballpark was that officials were shutting down the game for some reason, not that the initiative to end the game had come from the field, from the fact that Padilla and Garcia had not volunteered to pitch for as long as necessary, something they had no obligation to do.
So, how do we keep this from happening again? Well, first explain to me why we need to keep it from happening again. The All-Star Game is an exhibition. It's played for fun. Get everybody into the game, and if you run out of players, call it a night. Is it really such a terrible thing for a game that has no real meaning to end in a tie? I don't think so.
All-Star managers trying to get everybody into the game smacks of T-ball to some people, but I like it. With all the stars who beg off from the game at the last minute for personal reasons and late-breaking hangnails, I think it's good to reward the guys who do show up by putting them in.
If you want to reform something about the All-Star Game, let's back up an hour to that endless pregame thing, because what I want to know is when did this happen?
When did the All-Star Game become the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, with the kids of all nations (in MasterCard baseball shirts) prancing around meaningfully with light-saber baseball bats and colored, twirling ribbons as that weird opening ceremony French horn music, you know the kind I mean, oodles away in the background, and Ray Liotta -- Ray Liotta? What happened to you, pal? -- utters quasi-poetic banalities about the green diamonds of our memories while actors dressed up as old-timey press photographers pretend to take pictures?
This is the All-Star Game? Let's have the strike.
Is there no major sporting event that can avoid this Disneyfied treatment? Must we always, now, endure an hour or so of ersatz emotion and fresh-scrubbed kids and sappy music and overwrought narration? And how can baseball and Fox Television use an hour of precious prime time on this garbage and not start the game until after 9 p.m. Eastern time, meaning most kids in the East have to sit through the twirling ribbons but have no chance of seeing more than a few innings of All-Star baseball? It's outrageous.
The centerpiece of the pregame ceremonies was a review of baseball's 30 greatest moments, evidently inspired by, well, by a MasterCard advertising campaign. Liotta's script kept referring to baseball as the great American something or other, so quintessentially red, white and blue and so everlastingly bald eagle Lou Gehrig blah blah Willie Mays 9/11 blah.
But in the America I live in, most people hate this pompous crap. Most of the Americans I know would say, "Hey, clear the field of all these drama club kids with their twirling ribbons, the ones pretending they know who Barry Bonds is, and let's play ball."
That's what we're saying about baseball in general these days as it gets ready to shoot itself in the foot and screw the fans with another strike. Figure out your little problems, how you're going to divide $3.6 billion a year among, oh, a couple of thousand people, including secretaries and janitors, and let's play ball.
Somehow, all the expensive and flashy showbiz crapola, the starburst design cut into the grass and the shooting star designs watered into the infield dirt and the carefully edited slo-mo tribute films, seemed like a perfect symbol for the state of the game, blithely oozing toward disaster amid a deluge of pointlessly spent money.
The thing about an All-Star Game broadcast, though, is that in spite of itself, it has to turn to the game sooner or later, and All-Star Games have a way of providing singular moments. Sometimes those moments are brilliant plays, titanic Bo Jackson homers or dazzling Dave Parker throws. Sometimes they're funny little moments that only happen at All-Star Games, John Kruk shaking his head in disbelief and pulling on his shirt collar as a young Randy Johnson fires fastballs over his head and at him.
Tuesday's game provided both in the first inning. In the top half, National League pitcher Curt Schilling and catcher Mike Piazza had a little meeting right in front of home plate as Alex Rodriguez prepared to bat. Rodriguez, smiling, angled his ear at them and said, "Huh?" So Schilling told him what they'd talked about: All fastballs. Three fastballs later, Rodriguez had struck out.
In the bottom of the inning, Bonds hit a Derek Lowe pitch over the right-center field fence, but Torii Hunter, the Twins' wondrous center fielder, leaped above the fence to take the home run away, a play for the ages. Running out to his position in the outfield at the inning changeover, Bonds encountered Hunter and playfully lifted him over his shoulder.
These little human moments, along with Jorge Posada of the Yankees sending out his toddler son, eyeblack and all, in his place during the player introductions and Matt Morris of the Cardinals showing the camera his palms, with "DK" scrawled on one, "57" on the other, a tribute to the late Darryl Kile, seemed like gold nuggets after the tinsel and fakery of the pregame show.
There's a lesson there. You can't script the good stuff. You can't plan for a brilliant catch that will rob the game's greatest home run hitter of an All-Star home run, or for a rocket of a homer in that hitter's next at-bat, which Bonds delivered. But it's too bad the scripted parts, if there must be scripted parts, can't be more like the good parts. Here's the formula: More good baseball, less twirling ribbons. And if the All-Star Game ends in a tie, it ends in a tie.