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Savran: Baseball matching apples, oranges

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Before you decide how to do something, you must first decide what it is you want to accomplish. Without a clearly defined goal, any plan of action will be rendered useless. Would someone please pass along these words of wisdom to Baseball Bud?

Actually, Bud and the Lords of Baseball do have an objective: To make the All-Star Game more attractive to the fans. But before that can happen, they have to decide what they want the game to be.

Is it to be an exhibition, a showcase for the best players, a feel-good evening to stoke the dying embers of passion for major league baseball?

Or is it to be a fierce game between rivals, a game where players are willing to give all they have for their beloved league?

Baseball wants it both ways, and, as you've undoubtedly learned by now, you can't have it both ways. The contradictions scream at you.

Precious few players spend their entire careers in just one league, let alone one team, so their allegiance to and pride in being a member of a league is negligible, if at all.

Secondly, because of all the player movement, chances are excellent that guys played with all stars from the other league at one time or another, so the competitive "hatred" Major League Baseball is trying to promote between the leagues is completely artificial.

Further, the labor issues which have infected baseball has resulted in an adversarial relationship between players and owners, making the bond between union brethren much, much stronger than ever. Their first allegiance is to one another, not their league, and in many cases, not even their own team.

So what avenues has baseball chosen to rectify the problem?

On the one hand, they foolishly attach the outcome of a game that doesn't count for anything to determine home-field advantage for the World Series, which counts for everything!

On the other hand, they still make it mandatory that every team be represented, which means all the best players aren't available. And to prove they're fan friendly, and to maximize marketing sponsorships, they bring in the Internet to choose the final two players. Why not just have the fans vote on which team should win the World Series and let that be that?

Individually, these ideas are fine. But you can't combine them and expect to achieve the objective.

I believe every team should be represented at the All-Star Game. It's a belief that comes honestly. Growing up in Cleveland, I saw some really bad baseball. Perpetually. Generally, the only bright spot of the season was staying up late to watch the All-Star Game with my dad, the both of us anxious to see the lone Indians representative get his chance to strike out, make an error or give up a home run.

Presumably fans of other non-contenders will watch for the same reason, at least until their hometown hero fails, thus maximizing rapidly dwindling television ratings.

But no matter how well intentioned this might be, if Baseball Bud really wants the game to matter, this has to change. Forcing Lance Carter or Rondell White onto the teams for the sole purpose of representing Tampa Bay and San Diego sends a mixed signal.

If the game is supposed to mean something, shouldn't you send out your absolute best?

Baseball should have kept apples and oranges separate by making games that matter influence games that matter. Why not make the final results of interleague play determine home-field advantage? At least those games count, assuming you believe that's the case when the time honored rivalry between the Tigers and Astros resumes.

If, however, the All Star game is for honoring those players having the best half a season and to allow the fans to applaud and appreciate those players they most enjoy watching (and these two things aren't necessarily the same thing), then let it be just that.

If this is to be an exhibition, then allow Roger Clemens to say goodbye on the big stage.

Let Sammy Sosa take the bus from Wrigley Field to the South Side of Chicago.

Let the fans see phenom Dontrelle Willis display his talents and personality.

Hasn't every fan heard about Rocco Baldelli? He has good enough numbers to have been invited. Why wasn't he?

Put the designated hitter into the game, for crying out loud! What better place for it? When do the pitchers bat anyway?

This melange of diametrically opposite philosophies has created a mess.

It's like a weather vane, all twisted and pointing in multiple directions, and will create no more interest whatsoever.

Baseball is trying to be all things to all people. Because of an unclear objective, the All-Star Game has become much less for a lot less.

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

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