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July 6, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

10 Pitchers? Really?

by Jim Baker

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"Jeter and Matsui need your votes!"

So reads the e-mail I received from Yankees.com--and no, I did not add the exclamation point myself. Given their profession and the amount of money they make, there is nothing--up to and including votes of any kind--that Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui need from me. Well, they could probably hire me to clean their pools, but that's about it.

The Yankees may believe that Jeter and Matsui may need my votes, but does the American League really need Jeter or Matsui or any of the five men on the 32nd-man ballot? What is the point of the exercise here?

For a good part of its life, the All-Star Game counted for nothing yet was played with a kind of joie de vie that belied its exhibitionistic intent. Incongruously, now that the game has something at stake, its rosters are put together piecemeal and deployed in much the same fashion. If, as we are expected to believe, playing for homefield advantage in the World Series turns this into some sort of blood sport, then shouldn't the opposing managers be allowed to put their best foot forward? Shouldn't the modern All-Star Game now recall the earliest versions of the endeavor, which looked more like actual games rather than the scorekeeper's nightmares of today?

In the inaugural contest in 1933, every American League starter except for Babe Ruth played the whole game--and Ruth's exit was for defensive purposes only, as he got his full dose of at-bats. The National Leaguers substituted at both their seventh and eighth spots in the lineup with more than one player getting at-bats out of those slots. They also made one defensive substitution. As for pitchers, each side used three.

Now, it's been a very long time since using three pitchers per side was standard operating procedure. The last time the National League did it was in the 1956 game. The American League last tried it in 1961 and got no-hit performances out of the first and third men in (Jim Bunning and Camilo Pascual) They won, as the middle man, Red Sox rookie Don Schwall, gave up just one run. Even by then it was rare. In fact, 1961 was the first time that happened for the American League since 1948, when the trio of Walt Masterson, Vic Raschi and Joe Coleman held the Nationals to two runs. (Should I admit in print that I never heard of Walt Masterson? He's got to be the most obscure All-Star Game starter ever, doesn't he?)

If homefield advantage in the World Series actually meant something, wouldn't we return to this sort of strategy, and wouldn't the players and managers endorse it?

The truth is, sport as pure exhibition doesn't resonate in our society the way it once did. Everything has to "count" now. I am not decrying this, just stating it for the record. The carrot and stick of the All-Star Game is an attempt to address this modern attitude, but it is not working. Interest in this aspect of the game is not registering, probably because the game itself still resembles one of those grade school gym class affairs where everybody had to get at least one time at bat.

Personally, I love the All-Star Game, warts and all. I wouldn't care if they were playing for a basket filled with week-old fruit, I'd watch it and find something to enjoy about it. The conceit that it now "matters" is of little consequence.

I kind of wish the All-Star Game were this week because then the season would be split more evenly. In that way, the phrase "after the All-Star break" would actually refer to the second half of the season rather than the last 47%.

If the break were moved up a week, though, we would run the risk of missing out on Fourth of July baseball. The way Yankee Stadium looked this past Monday is probably not something the game should do without. A big ballpark filled to capacity under a glorious blue sky--isn't that the essence of Independence Day?

I liked how the Yankees brought in Mariano Rivera to close out the 13-8 victory. After coughing up a six-run lead, they were taking no chances with the five-run job they carried into the ninth. I was happy to see him come in as the game was on the verge of turning into a cricket match length-wise. His entrance may have saved the game from lasting until Bastille Day.

--

In between innings, I was dutifully flipping over to the History Channel in honor of the holiday. I was watching The Crossing, a movie about George Washington's raid on Trenton on Christmas night, 1776. After the battle is over, the Colonials are rounding up the captured Hessians. One of them says to a prisoner, "What are you lookin' at?" I figured that guy had to be from the New Jersey militia.

That night I went to a cookout in a subdivision that was engulfed in the holiday spirit. With fireworks sales in Texas limited to a brief period before New Year's and Independence Day, everyone seems bent on discharging as much ordnance as possible in those brief windows of opportunity. From about nine to 10:30, it sounded like the Foley effects room on a medium-budget war movie.

This led me to an idea for next year's July 4 celebration, something that should appeal to the nine-year old boy in all of us. The first step is to find a large parking lot, one with no vegetation for as many acres as possible. In the middle, construct a structure with historic significance, maybe something like Fort Ticonderoga. Now, what I am proposing be the fate of this fort has nothing to do with history, but nobody really needs to know that. The historical angle is just a pretense to keep naysayers at bay.

The recreation should be about one-quarter scale, or, if you're a town on a budget, one-eighth scale. It should be done out of the cheapest grade of wood available, the kind of stuff that will go up like kindling. Cardboard might even be better. In a nod to history, the fort's powder magazine should be loaded with fireworks. Everyone in town would then be invited to come on down and fire Roman candles and bottle rockets at the thing. The goal is to light it on fire and, ultimately, set off the fireworks standing in for the powder magazine. Once that goes, the entire thing will erupt like something out of a Bugs Bunny-Yosemite Sam showdown.

Tell me you wouldn't love to participate in something like that!

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