All-Star Game a True Classic, But No More Home Field
The 79th All-Star game showcased precisely why baseball's version of the game is vastly superior to that of any other sport. You had:
- Mariano Rivera's hero's entrance and the strike-out/throw-out double play
- Ryan Dempster striking out the side to force extra innings
- Rivera escaping first and third with one out in the 10th
- Aaron Cook escaping bases-loaded, none out in the bottom of the 10th
- Aaron Cook escaping first and second with one out in the bottom of the 11th
- Aaron Cook escaping a runner on third one out in the bottom of the 12th
- Russell Martin guarding home plate like a bulldog
- Ryan Ludwick laying out to rob Ian Kinsler of a hit
- The trials and tribulations of Dan Uggla
And that was just from the ninth inning on.
The game also exposed the flaw with Bud Selig's "winner gets home field in the World Series" stipulation. It was brought in following the tie game debacle in 2002, under the assumption that with something at stake, the players would be more motivated to perform, the managers would be more motivated to win, and the all-star game would never again be sullied with a tie (moreover, the commissioner would never again be booed out of the building by an unhappy crowd).
And then, last night, during one of the most hotly-contested games in all-star history, it very nearly happened again.
The problem was never the motivation of the players. Because baseball is a series of one-on-one confrontations, you very seldom have anyone dogging it. Imagine going to work and having your performance appraisal plastered on video boards all over the place, while being watched by 50 000 people. Would anyone ever phone it in?
That's why it was so easy to sympathize with poor Dan Uggla, as he struck out and bad-hopped his way to the worst performance in all-star history.
The easy way to avoid any threat of a tie in the future is a more judicious selection and usage of the respective pitching staffs. Terry Francona burned through five of the six starting pitchers on his staff after just six innings. Roy Halladay threw all of nine pitches. Joe Saunders threw 12. Francona then used all six of his short relievers before calling on Scott Kazmir.
First off, SIX short relievers? K-Rod and his 38 saves? Fine. Mariano Rivera and his 1.06 ERA? Sure. But George Sherrill and his 4.08 ERA? Brian Wilson's 4.58 ERA and 1.53 WHIP? The short relief role lends itself to lots of saves and few innings, so it's easier to pile up gaudy numbers than it is for starters.
I know we need an Oriole, but Jeremy Guthrie has been a more valuable pitcher than Sherrill, with a 3.49 ERA in 129 innings. Then again, a 5-7 record doesn't get you to the mid-summer classic. How about Daisuke Matsuzaka, 10-1, 2.65 over Jonathan Papelbon?
Managers should limit themselves to the top 3-4 relievers in the league. Closers are generally elite pitchers, but are half of them truly all-star worthy?
More starting pitchers would help to alleviate the problem, as would using them properly. Why not let every starting pitcher pitch two innings? You would never again see a tie in an all-star game. Sure, not all the pitchers would get into the game, but so be it.
Perversely, I found myself rooting for a tie just to see what Selig's backup plan would be to determine home field advantage in the World Series. Perhaps he wouldn't have allowed a tie. There are rumblings that J.D. Drew and David Wright would have been called upon to pitch had the game continued. One can't imagine Red Sox or Mets management being too happy about that prospect.
Home field in the World Series should belong to the team with the best record, period. Instead of trying to artificially inflate the importance of a game that's already widely watched, why not heighten the importance of regular season games for teams that have wrapped up a playoff spot? Based on last night's performance, the All-Star game doesn't need any added gimmicks.