- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Once again Tuesday night, the National League played the part of Wile E. Coyote in the All-Star Game. And once again, there’s much discussion about why - why, in the end, an anvil always falls on the NL’s head.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 12 anvils in 13 years for the stars of the Senior Circuit (with the other game, the infamous 2002 fiasco, ending in a tie). It defies probability, it truly does, but that doesn’t stop some of our deeper thinkers from trying to make sense of it.

After all, the league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series - something the AL will enjoy this October for the seventh straight season. With so much more at stake in the Midsummer Classic these days than mere bragging rights, it’s ludicrous, Keith Olbermann contends in his Baseball Nerd blog, that the “game is played under rules that necessarily favor the American League.”

Before we go any further, I’d just like to point out that the last six Series have been split evenly between the AL and NL. Moreover, not a single one has been decided by home-field advantage. (The three wins by the AL - two by the Red Sox, the other by the White Sox - were all sweeps.)

But getting back to Olbermann and his two major concerns…

1. The designated hitter gives the American League a significant edge because all 14 of these sultans of swat are “potential American League All-Stars.” The DH also lets position players take an occasional day off from the field - while keeping them in the lineup - and it lightens pitchers’ loads because they’re spared from having to hit or run the bases (except, of course, in games at National League parks).

Rebuttal: In the Americans’ 4-3 victory over the Nationals the other night, there wasn’t a single player in the AL dugout who makes his living primarily as a designated hitter. Better still, the Rays’ Carl Crawford (who made a homer-robbing catch in the seventh inning), the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson (who scored the winning run in the eighth after hitting a triple) and the Orioles’ Adam Jones (who brought Granderson home with a sacrifice fly) haven’t “slummed” as the DH once all season.

It also bears mentioning that Padres reliever Heath Bell, who gave up the aforementioned triple, has only one plate appearance this year (on July 4, when he laid down a sacrifice bunt against the Dodgers). Bullpen guys - even in the NL - rarely bat much, and All-Star Games tend to be dominated by bullpen guys. So where, really, is the DH Disadvantage?

2. “The All-Teams-Represented anachronism - a rule left over from the days when it was assumed television viewership in each city depended on a representative from the team in each city - clearly hurts the National League… [which] is stuck with two more Mandatory Choices, each year, than is the AL.”

Rebuttal: Let’s face it, no system for selecting All-Stars is going to be perfect. But the “Mandatory Choices” are a lot less of an issue, if you ask me, than some of the fans’ choices. Take the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton (.243 batting average .428 slugging). He had no business being on the American League team - and his throwing error from center field, which gave the National League its third run - could have proved crucial. But that’s the way it goes sometimes, you know? Stuff happens.

A year ago, Boston’s Jason Varitek made the AL squad when he was hitting .218 and slugging .354. That’s why it’s silly to think of these All-Star affairs as the Best Against the Best. There’s always a certain amount of subjectivity involved - not just with the fans’ selections, but with the players’ and coaches’, too. In the end, it’s nothing more than a high-gloss exhibition. I mean, does anyone think Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, whose wife is expecting, would have begged off if it had been Game 1 of the World Series?

For me, the number from Tuesday’s box score that sticks out the most is 2:31. That’s how long it took to play nine innings - which is pretty expeditious, you have to admit. But it’s not all that unusual for an All-Star Game. The 2006 game took 2:33, the one in ‘03 2:38 and the one in ‘97 (when the American League’s streak began) 2:36.

In other words, you didn’t see a whole lot of hitters grinding out at bats - the way they do in games that Really Matter. In one stretch, AL pitchers got 18 consecutive outs on just 47 pitches. It was almost like the batters were in a hurry, had a party to get to or something.

World Series games are almost never like that. In the Series, there’s more dawdling, more deep breathing, more gamesmanship - because so much more is on the line. In fact, you know how long it’s been since a Series game was played as quickly as Tuesday’s All-Star Game? Answer: 17 years. (Game 4 between the Blue Jays and Braves lasted a mere 2:21.)

What it suggests is that fans place more importance on these All-Star extravaganzas than players do. To the participants, the game is more an Advertisement for Myself than a death struggle between the orthodox NL and the DH-corrupted AL. Besides, once you’ve been hit with an anvil 11 times, you hardly feel the 12th one.