True story #1:
A few weeks ago, I was talking with Chris Kahrl about the week I was planning to be on vacation. I made the comment that the All-Star week was a good one to be out of touch, because there were just four days of games and usually the days around the Midsummer Classic were slow, news-wise.
True story #2:
Last Tuesday night around 9 p.m., my mother asked me how I was planning to write about the All-Star Game if I wasn't watching it. I told her that I wasn't writing my column while away, and that I wouldn't write about the All-Star Game when I returned because no one cared about the All-Star Game past about 10:30 a.m. the next day.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.
Making my life more complicated was a lack of cell-phone service. (I already knew my e-mail access was going to be limited.) You know those stupid Verizon commercials where the guy in the gas station jacket walks around saying, "Can you hear me now?" Well, he hasn't quite reached the Catskills yet. My apologies to the various people who tried to reach me last week.
I'm never going to be able to get completely caught up on everything I missed, but I'll highlight a few things in today's column, especially the All-Star fiasco.
(Regular readers may wish to sit down and take a deep breath at this point.)
Bud Selig was absolutely right.
Put in an impossible situation by the All-Star managers, he made the only decision he could. Bringing back a pitcher would have been just as dangerous as overworking the ones in the game, using position players to pitch would have brought down just as much opprobrium as calling the game, and while I personally think a 12th inning wouldn't have been unreasonable, that decision was more up to Joe Torre and Bob Brenly than to Selig.
Much of what I'll say here has probably been said elsewhere, but just for the record, I think Torre and Brenly got off too easily. They didn't "run out" of players and pitchers. They ran themselves out of players. Torre had just nine pitchers on his roster, one of whom–Barry Zito–he knew would only be able to throw a few pitches. At that, eight pitchers should be enough for 13 or 14 innings, minimum, but Torre allowed four pitchers–Roy Halladay (admittedly ineffective), Eddie Guardado, Ugueth Urbina and Mariano Rivera–to combine for 54 pitches in 3 2/3 innings.
Brenly's roster construction and game work was even worse. He had just three starters on the roster, and just two of his pitchers–Curt Schilling, who started the game, and Vicente Padilla, who ended it, threw more than 19 pitches.
I understand the idea that the All-Star Game is an exhibition, and I completely agree with the notion that overextending pitchers in an effort to win it–or complete it–is unconscionable. If what happened was a bad ending, a worse one would have been Vicente Padilla throwing 34 pitches in a three-run top of the 12th, and going on the disabled list two days later, and when that's the last remaining option, you have to avoid it.
The problem wasn't the end of the game, it was the decisions leading up to it. The effort to get everyone into the All-Star Game is a noble one, but it makes for a less-enjoyable game and exposes managers to exactly the kind of risk we saw last Tuesday. One of the ideas being bandied about is expanding the rosters, but the problem isn't roster size–good lord, 30 players for one game?!?–but mindset. All-Star managers have to disabuse themselves of the idea that everyone, especially pitchers, must appear. The selection is the honor; playing is nice–I would encourage managers to make sure a representative from every team is used, while allowing the sixth Yankee or fifth Brave to be held in reserve–but when game management is reduced to a bad impersonation of a Little League coach, things have gone too far.
Along those lines, if the pitcher held in reserve for extra innings is going to be limited to two of them, shouldn't there be multiple pitchers assigned to that role? I was under the impression that the guys held back were ones who could throw four innings or so, maybe 60-70 pitches. If that's not going to be the case, then more than one is needed, because generally speaking, guys who make the All-Star team are capable of tossing back-to-back shutout innings.
There's no need for roster expansion. Mind expansion, to allow the idea that not playing in the All-Star Game isn't a bad thing back in, will ensure that last week's ugliness never again occurs.
(One other thing: use the DH in every All-Star Game. Not having it just forces pitchers out of the contest sooner. Whatever you think of pitchers' hitting, I can't imagine the need for it in an exhibition game designed to showcase the best of the sport.)
Lest anyone think I'm now a fan of Bud Selig, let me point out that the boy who cried "Bankruptcy!" was slapped down nicely in his latest use of scare tactics. No one missed payroll, no one went under.
Baseball teams are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I just don't see any way that a team owner–himself generally worth hundreds of millions of dollars–is ever going to allow a short-term cash-flow problem to affect the value of that investment. While people like to talk about how Selig wants a team to go bankrupt to support his claims of financial distress, I don't believe any MLB team can meet the standards for bankruptcy, and moreover, any attempt to do so will cause the true finances of a team to come to light.
It's all more anti-marketing from a man who is perfectly willing to make people hate baseball in an effort to pay less than market value for labor. It's not about competitive balance, it's not about growing the game, it's not about markets and it's not about the fans. It's about lowering labor costs.
By the way, if a team does sacrifice itself, I have my money on the Marlins. At this point, I'm pretty much convinced that Selig owns Loria lock, stock and barrel, and that the art dealer will do anything to help Selig's campaign against the game. And remember, the Marlins' criminal lease with Pro Player Stadium and slumlord Wayne Huizenga does deprive them of a staggering amount of baseball-related revenue.
Maybe someday MLB will target the lease-holders in places like Minnesota and Florida, rather than allow them to leech off the game while blaming the players for all their problems.
- The A's won the big three-way trade, although I'm not sure I see any losers. The Tigers may be less of a winner, but Carlos Pena is already their best player, and gives them someone around which to build a lineup.
Set aside everything you know and just look at the rosters. Of the Expos, Giants and Dodgers, who has the best team? The additions of Bartolo Colon–who should have been on the NL All-Star team–and Cliff Floyd make Montreal the real deal.
Granted, MLB forced Omar Minaya to jump through hoops to avoid adding salary–which I find a bit galling, given that revenues can be expected to rise with the additions–but they did allow him to improve the team, setting up a potential embarrassment to the owners' representative. They deserve credit for allowing the Expos to act like what they are: a contender.
- You know my last column before the break, the one in which I listed Jim Edmonds twice on an MVP ballot, completely messed up rookie eligibility for a number of players, and generally threw up on myself? Let's just pretend that never happened, like a tee shot sliced into the next county over. (Er, not that I've ever done that.)
It's good to be back.
Thank you for reading
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