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Savran: All-Star Game no longer a classic

Saturday, July 06, 2002

A disclaimer: This column might make it appear that I actually care about baseball's All-Star Game and its selection process. I don't. If I watch at all, it will only be for the player introductions.

I always enjoy seeing who among the participants gets booed the most.

Then it's a quick click of the remote to whatever sordid made-for-TV-movies the networks show for summer filler.

I didn't always feel this way. Few did.

The All-Star Game was dubbed the Midsummer Classic because it was.

Following baseball from an American League city, you got to see National League players only on rare occasions -- a sporadic Saturday glimpse on the Game of the Week, which was just about the only baseball game shown on TV most weeks.

And, of course, the World Series and the All-Star Game. Those were my only chances to see Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.

In fact, given that there were only about a dozen or so games televised locally then, it afforded more of an opportunity to see American League stars such as Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Frank Howard.

Today there are five games televised on any given summer's eve, so I can see All-Star players often.

Interleague play has lessened the intrigue of games against unfamiliar faces and teams.

And what has really dulled the All-Star Game is that its outcome has been rendered meaningless.

It has always been an exhibition, but there was a time when you got the sense it was more than that to the players. They were entrusted to uphold the honor of their league.

But today, with free agency, how many players play in just one league their entire careers?

Players change leagues as often as they change their socks these days, so any allegiance to a particular league is gone.

It used to be that if you began your career with the National League, you were a National Leaguer for life. You would put your body in harm's way to win for your team and your league.

I doubt you will ever see another Pete Rose/Ray Fosse collision at home plate.

Additionally, with the players moving around like gypsies, chances are they're playing against former teammates in the All-Star Game -- guys they got to know very well before dollars were allowed to draw and quarter teams.

So while players still play hard and certainly want to win, I believe the pride they're trying to protect and preserve is their own, not that of their league.

Nevertheless, even though I'm an All-Star Game conscientious objector, I offer this suggestion. For years Major League Baseball has been concerned, obsessed really, with how the All-Star starters should be selected -- fan balloting, selection by players, managers, coaches, assorted media, Ouija board, tarot cards, picking names out of a batting helmet.

But never have baseball officials been terribly concerned with the process governing the selection of the pitchers and the reserve players.

Those players constitute more than two thirds of the rosters, and therefore ought to be given at least that much of the attention.

At present, the managers of the respective teams do the honors. That's why the American League has five shortstops, but no spot for its home run leader.

And why the Nationa League can't find a place for two of its best players, Larry Walker and Brian Giles. I say its time -- long past the time -- to take that responsibility away from the managers.

I suggest a panel of experts select pitchers and reserves. Choose anyone from former players to former managers -- people still following the game closely -- but people without any close connection to any team. And keep the managers out of it.

Arizona and National League Manager Bob Brenly chose six of his own. You can't argue Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Junior Spivey, but you certainly can question the other three.

Unless the Diamondbacks trade for Giles, Brenly won't have to see him for the rest of this season. He does have to eyeball Luis Gonzalez every day.

As well respected as Joe Torre is, he also has been guilty of taking too good of care of his own. The managers should be relieved of the potential conflict of interest, thereby removing the appearance of bias. Lead us not into temptation.

I should probably recuse myself from all matters relating to the All-Star Game. But I might decide to watch a bit this year.

I realize there's a strong possibility I won't be able to see any of those five American League shortstops in the playoffs or World Series this fall.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show at 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970)

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