King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The good news is that the new, improved All-Star Game was a dandy. The bad news is that Bud Selig was hoping that would happen.


Salon Staff
July 16, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

I hate it when things work out the way Bud Selig wants them to, because it only encourages him. The baseball commissioner is a boob, a cancer on the game, a guy whose every idea seems to be somehow even more wrongheaded than the one before it. But he's an activist. He has so many ideas that every once in a while, just by the law of averages, something works out in his favor.

Tuesday's All-Star Game, with home-field advantage on the line in the World Series for the first time -- a dumb idea -- was pretty damn entertaining. It really was more competitive than it's been for the last decade or so, and it was still pretty fun. It was a terrific, exciting, crisply played game decided by a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the eighth by 22-year-old Hank Blalock of Texas, in his first-ever All-Star at-bat, off Eric Gagne of Los Angeles, one of the game's best relief pitchers.

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There wasn't the charming goofiness of recent years, nothing like Barry Bonds throwing Torii Hunter over his shoulder in last year's game, or Curt Schilling telling Alex Rodriguez he was going to give him all fastballs and then striking him out on three pitches. On the other hand, it only took them two hours, 38 minutes to play the whole thing. That's about three innings' worth most years.

The idea to tie the All-Star Game outcome to the World Series -- "This Time It Counts," went the contrived slogan -- actually didn't come from Selig but from Fox Sports, which wanted to boost the game's sagging ratings. But Selig, painfully embarrassed by last year's All-Star tie in his own home stadium, championed the idea as a way to combat the practice of All-Star managers trying to get every player into the game, which led to last year's stoppage of play after 11 innings because there was no one left to pitch.

The problem is that while this new competitiveness is OK for the All-Star Game -- the starters played longer and didn't all seem to bolt for the airport upon being lifted -- it makes no sense for the much more important World Series to be so dependent on this exhibition game. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pointed out as much in the most politic of ways during a dugout interview with Fox's Kevin Kennedy, who had earlier given his unbiased view of the whole idea: "I like it."

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Home field in the Series has alternated between leagues each year since 1920. That's an awful lot of tradition to chuck out the window for a marginal gain. After all, let's not forget that until the bullpens ran dry, last year's All-Star Game was pretty damn entertaining as well. And couldn't baseball have stopped the managers from trying to get everyone into the game by saying, "Hey, stop doing that. We don't want any more ties"?

Now, instead of the National League getting home-field advantage in this year's World Series, as it would have according to the 83-year-old tradition, the American League gets it. And why? Because Hank Blalock hit a home run. Hank Blalock plays for the Texas Rangers, a last-place team. When the World Series begins, he'll be in his fourth week at the fishing hole.

"Why should alternating every year be the reason for home-field advantage?" Kennedy had asked rhetorically before the game. Well, Kevin, because that's how they've done it for almost a hundred freakin' years, and that ought to carry a little weight in baseball. Maybe it should even carry a little more weight than the extremely short-term needs of Fox television.

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I mean, why should first base be where you run after you hit the ball? If it were somehow good for Fox, why not run to left field?

The official Fox line, by the way, expressed in almost exactly the same words by Kennedy and play-by-play man Joe Buck, went like this: "Nobody here is inferring" -- Buck used the word "insinuating" -- "that players don't try, they don't have intensity."

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Certainly not. Fox and Selig never inferred or insinuated any such thing. They came right out and said it. That's why they wanted to change the rules.

And they got a good game out of it, darn the luck. The American League rallied against two of the National League's three "lights-out" closers, Gagne and Billy Wagner of Houston. Those guys and John Smoltz of Atlanta, who never got a chance to pitch, supposedly meant that the N.L. could turn the game into a six-inning contest, because nobody scores against that trio. Well, the National League led 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, but Wagner gave up a homer to Jason Giambi of the Yankees, and Gagne gave up doubles to MVP Garret Anderson of Anaheim and Vernon Wells of Toronto before Blalock's game-winning shot.

That was fun. It was also fun to see Todd Helton hit a towering home run to center field, because last week I called him perhaps the most overrated player in baseball history, and it's good to have your hat handed to you every once in a while.

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It just shouldn't have decided something as important as where the World Series is played.

Now an emboldened Selig is probably trying to come up with his next brilliant idea. I can hear the gears turning from here. Hmmm ... why not have the batter run to left field?

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