Sunday, July 12, 2009


292nd post

With the All-Star Game upon us, it behooves us to go over how such a noble institution became so fleeped up.
We start, of course, with the most infamous All-Star Game in history: 2002's 7-7 tie after 11 innings. Only once before had the ASG ended in a tie (1961, 1-1, first game), and that was because they automatically ended after 9 innings back then. What happened in 2002? The teams ran out of pitchers.
Now let's go back to 1993. Oriole Park at Camden Yards hosted that event (AL 9, NL 3), and many fans were ticked off because local hero Mike Mussina, a member of the AL squad, was not given a chance to pitch. Now, a reasonable reaction would be an unofficial assumed rule that wherever you host the ASG, the managers trot out all the hometown guys on the roster. Well, apparently that's too reasonable, because the result was that the managers started trying to play everybody, so that no team's fans would be disappointed. What used to be a game of skill incidentally featuring the best players in the leagues morphed into a circus exhibit. Meanwhile, rosters were expanded to well over the normal 25 maximum.
Fast-forward back to '02. This screwup, embarrassingly occurring right in Commissioner Selig's backyard, was declared a tie by Bud after 11, and fan reaction was overwhelmingly condemnational. In regular season games, it's perfectly possible for position players to take the mound--this usually happens during blowouts when the manager wants to coserve the bullpen's arms--so why not now? Sure, the score may have changed into some ridiculous numbers (14-12? 20-19?), but at least a game could be had out of it. A tie just plain sucked.
So Bud der Genius decided the best way to ensure this wouldn't happen again was not to trust that future managers would remember how awful this situation turned out and start conserving players again, but to declare that the winning league would have home field advantage in the World Series--an achievement previously achieved by the team with the better record, as is good and natural. A game that was once fun and then laughable was now too serious.
Then, since the managers would now be forced to use their players carefully, yet another new rule was created: every team should now have at least one representative in the ASG. So if the fans couldn't see them, at least nobody would feel left out. This populist pandering stuck in the craws of traditionalists, and many other people as well.
Not only that, the home field advantage proved to be meaningless. Since 2002, of the last six World Series, only one has gone more than five games (Marlins over Yankees, 2003), meaning all the rest were won by visiting teams. All the excitement and drama has migrated to the Division and League Championship Series, where home field advantage is decide by, you guessed it, regular-season record. Think of Boston's 2004 miracle ALCS comeback, or Houston's 2005 grueling 18-inning NLDS clincher. This kind of drama has vanished from the WS. Coincidence? Perhaps...
This year, with the expansion of rosters to a mind-boggling 33 players each (with the final player voted in by fans, able to vote an infinite number of times, just to make things dumber), the situation of mediocre and otherwise undeserving players entering the ranks of the likes of Ted Williams, Yogi Berra and Willie Mays, has simply been exacerbated. The diluting of the rosters by expansion and inclusion has taken its toll on a once proud institution. Who knows where it will lead next?

TODAY'S BOOK: "Dr. Dolittle's Circus", by Hugh Lofting ((c) 1924)


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