Jul 10

Five Ways To Fix The All-Star Game

When I was growing up I used to love the All-Star Game. The game meant something to me because it was clear it meant something to the players. When two of my favorite players – Pete Rose and Ray Fosse – met at the plate during the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, it was clear it was not just another game. At least to those two.

FOSSE/ROSE: When the stars played with passion.

At one time they played two All-Star Games. These days there’s not too much of a game at all. It stopped being special when the vote was returned to the fans – ironically, in 1970 – because that’s when it became a popularity contest. Any election where a person can cast an indefinite amount of times is a farce by definition.

As far as I’m concerned, the game officially jumped the shark with interleague play. Soon after, MLB did away with the league offices and merged the umpires. And, of course, let’s not forget the farce of having the two leagues play with different rules regarding the DH.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is by far superior to other sports, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t necessary. It doesn’t need tinkering, but an overhaul of serious proportions.

Here’s what I would do:

1. It is a pipe dream, I know, but the first thing would be to eliminate interleague play, thereby creating a distinction between the leagues. The leagues will always be blurred to some extent because of free agency and movement of players. Interleague play is a gimmick that has taken luster from the All-Star Game and World Series.

2. Knowing MLB will keep interleague play as long as Bud Selig is around, the next step would be to cut the nonsense about the winning league having home field in the World Series. As long as the fans vote and it is a popularity contest, having it have such an impact in the postseason is a contradiction. The notion of a fan vote, having each team represented and trying to play everybody is the opposite in essence of having the winner determine the Game 7 site of the World Series.

3. Take away the fan vote. Another pipe dream, but I’d rather eliminate the popularity contest angle. Maybe the managers and coaches, or players, or scouts, or media. The stipulation being you can’t vote for your own players.

4. Why should every team be represented? It’s like everybody getting a trophy in the second grade. The only caveat being the host city having a player on the team. Assuring each team being represented often ends up having a deserving player being snubbed.

5. Expand the rosters to include a lifetime achievement participant. If a player is at the end of his career and has been a perennial All-Star but is having a sub-par year, include him on the team. For example, had Chipper Jones had not made it as a late entry, then a spot should have been reserved for him. Give the public a chance to say good-bye.

Jul 08

Reggie Jackson Should Shut Up; Wally Backman Defends Gary Carter

It must have been frustrating for Reggie Jackson when he questioned the validity of several Hall of Famers, including Gary Carter. I mean, nobody had been talking to him lately and he was out of the limelight.

Several of Carter’s teammates, including Wally Backman, came to his defense.

“Who is he to question?” Backman told the Bergen Record. “At least Gary was a complete player. It’s unbelievable Reggie would criticize a great guy and great player who’s passed away. Show some respect.”

Respect?

When it comes to respect to others, Jackson has no clue. He’s for himself first, second and to hell with everybody else.

Backman is right in that Carter was a more complete – and team player – than Jackson ever was. Some players tend to rub people the wrong way and what I’ll remember first about Jackson is not the three homers in the World Series game against the Dodgers, but for his derogatory comments about Thurman Munson, him ignoring Billy Martin’s signs and for scuffling with Martin in the dugout at Fenway.

Among his other comments in Sports Illustrated, Jackson said: “I didn’t see Kirby Puckett as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Gary Carter as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Don Sutton as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Phil Niekro as a Hall of Famer. As much as I like Jim Rice,  I’m not so sure he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Honestly, Puckett (3,000 hits), Sutton and Niekro (300 wins) are milestone stats that have meant automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. It’s the same way with 500 homers. Had Jackson hit 450 homers, would he be a Hall of Famer? I’m not so sure.

And, speaking of landmark honors, what about the Yankees’ retiring his number? Take away that World Series game and Jackson’s penchant for beating his own drum, it’s a reach to call him one of the great Yankees worthy of that honor.

 

 

 

Jul 02

Josh Thole To Talk With Buster Posey?

Very interesting note from ESPN this morning. Mets catcher Josh Thole said if Giants and NL All-Star catcher Buster Posey doesn’t contact him, he’ll reach out to him to give tips on how to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Too bad Dickey can’t bring his own catcher.

It’s a great gesture by Thole, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated. We know it’s silly, but the winning league gets home field for the World Series. Yes, that’s easily one of baseball’s most inane rules. But, it is a rule, and it could come back to bite the NL.

Suppose for a moment the NL loses by a run, with that run being scored on a passed ball by Posey with Dickey pitching. Would kind of stink wouldn’t it?

So, the call could be worthwhile.

Of course, the best line I ever hear about catching a knuckleball came from Ball Four, when Jim Bouton wrote, “let the ball stop rolling then pick it up.”

 

Jun 25

Mets Visit Charming Wrigley Field

The Mets will attempt to lick their wounds from losing two of three to the Yankees when they open a three-game series tonight at Wrigley Field, still a charm after all these years.

Built in 1912, the same year as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field remains a captivating place. It’s not an easy venue for a writer to work, but that’s our problem. It’s also not a comfortable place for players with small clubhouses and a cramped dugout.

For the visitors to get to the dugout, they must walk down a couple of flights of stairs and then weave their way through several halls (you could call them tunnels), the last two usually stank and wet.

But, the old time charm is what makes it worthwhile. The ivy on the brick walls, the rooftop seats across the street (a windfall for the building owners and the Cubs), the manually operated scoreboard in center field. All that takes us to a different time.

When you look past the center field bleachers you can see downtown Chicago. But, in that park you’ve escaped the hustle of today to a quieter, gentler time.

The seating for the fans is cramped and often obstructed, but Wrigley Field is still a tradition baseball and the Cubs are not willing to sacrifice. It’s been said in most years if you traded the Cubs roster for the White Sox roster there likely wouldn’t be a dramatic shift in attendance or fan support, because the real star is Wrigley Field.

(This year the Sox are significantly better, so that theory might not apply. But, we’re talking years when the teams have roughly the same record).

The fans are closer to the field than most parks (Fenway is the same), which generates a different feel and ambience. It’s like you’re a part of something. When a 10-year old can actually exchange a hello from a player during the game, that’s special.

In a concession to today’s economic realities of television advertising, the Cubs are playing more night games than ever. Although it has been decades since their last World Series appearance (they last came close in 2003 and would have made it had it not been for Steve Bartman), they have had playoff teams so it’s not an impossible concept.

Even without the luxury boxes other teams deem vital for their survival, the Cubs plod along. Once owned by the chewing gum company and later the syndicate that owns the Chicago Tribune, and now owned by the family trust of billionaire Joe Ricketts, the money is there to spend if they truly wanted.

They don’t jump into the deep end of the salary pool because the main attraction is an ancient stadium that is always filled, so what incentive do the Cubs have to spend more?

They build it and the people came, and they are still coming.

 

Jun 22

Mets Against Yankees, Interleague As A Whole Ran Its Course

What does interleague play and Roger Clemens have in common?

Both were products of a time when baseball’s management was at war with its players. Management, and that includes commissioner Bud Selig, were so adamant against player salaries rising and free agency, that they were willing to kill the 1994 World Series.

When play stopped late in the summer of 1994 – the Yankees and Montreal Expos were the elite of each league – the gap was so wide that no resolution could be reached and Selig eventually killed the World Series.

It would continue to the spring of 1995 and Selig’s brain-dead proposal of replacement players. Several times the owners were found guilty of collusion and dealing in bad faith by the courts. But, those facts didn’t matter. Baseball was in another work stoppage and the public didn’t care about the wars between millionaires and billionaires, and was rightfully turned off.

Baseball, in dire need of getting back the public, and in turn the taxpayer support to continue building new stadiums across the country was desperate. With the tradition of the World Series already trashed, let’s go the whole route and kill the concept of the leagues, the foundation for nearly a century. That brought us the gimmick of interleague play.

From there, major league baseball and the commissioner stuck their heads in the sand when the balls started flying at record paces in 1998. The home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated baseball fans, and even brought us the heart warming moment of McGwire embracing Roger Maris’ son the night he broke the single season home run record.

It was steroids that fueled McGwire and Sosa, and other sluggers as well. Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Luis Gonzalez. There have even been whispers about Mike Piazza.

Only, when prying eyes of the media and Congress questioned the pinball scores in the major leagues were steroids seriously discussed. It also took a high school kid dying to fuel the investigations.

Of course, pitchers weren’t immune, and that brings us to Clemens. The sport knew something was going on, but as long as there wasn’t anything in the books, the balls kept flying and people kept filling the seats. MLB didn’t care because it was making back the millions in losses from the strike of 1994.

Interleague play was a gimmick that briefly sparked attendance in some parks, but has waned. During this last week of games, attendance was below its capacity everywhere. The only time this week capacity was reached was in Philadelphia, but that was for a National League game against the Rockies.

The Yankees didn’t sell out for the Mets, the White Sox didn’t sell out for the Cubs, and the Mets haven’t sold out this weekend. Things have run its course.

As for the steroids, that has run its course for several years. The gimmicks and fast fixes are being rejected.

Maybe the commissioner will notice.