- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

I never thought I'd say this, but baseball needs to take a hint from hockey, the icy sport with two halftimes a game and fights that last longer than some heavyweight title bouts.

As far as the All-Star Game is concerned, I mean.

If you stayed up late last week to watch baseball's Midsummer Nonclassic and that's a big if you know the game has lost nearly all of its luster. In fact, it has become a big, fat bore, just like much of baseball itself in this sorry era of 3 1/2-hour games, inflated ticket prices and enough home runs to make George H. Ruth sorry he ever started this longball business.

So what's the All-Star answer? How about Major League Baseball changing its format? Nobody cares about American League vs. National League anymore. Instead it's clearly time to have U.S. native sons playing against guys from the rest of the civilized world provided, as colleague Dave Fay says, that we can find nine native-born players of All-Star quality.

The NHL adopted an international format (the United States and Canada against everybody else) after the Nagano Olympics, and guess what? The games since have been more interesting and competitive than recent yawners in the old East vs. West series.

Once upon a time, long ago and far away, baseball's All-Star Game was a real big deal, especially in cities like Washington where we didn't get the Game of the Week on TV and the National League was mostly a rumor. It was exciting to watch people like Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays ply their trade. The rest of the time, they might as well have been playing in Moscow as far as accessibility for D.C. fans was concerned. Oh, sure, the Dodgers made a lot of World Series, but everybody (except Johnny Podres) knew they would lose to the Yankees.

League pride played a big part, too. The American League dominated the All-Star Game from 1933 to 1949, but then the National League began 2* decades of supremacy because of its alacrity in signing black and Hispanic players. And sprinkled among these July exhibitions were some of baseball's most enduring moments: the Babe's homer on Day 1, Carl Hubbell's five straight strikeouts of AL sluggers in '34, Ted Williams' game-winning, ninth-inning homer in '41, Red Schoendienst's 14th-inning game-winner in '50, Pete Rose's flattening of Ray Fosse at home plate in '70.

Locally, there was Earl Averill's line drive that broke Dizzy Dean's toe at Griffith Stadium in '37 and hastened the early end of the great pitcher's career. Years later, broadcasting the '62 All-Star Game from D.C. Stadium (later RFK), Diz told compatriot Pee Wee Reese, "It was rat cheer that mah career ended, Pee Wee, rat cheer on that mound thar, pardner." Pee Wee kept trying to correct him, but interrupting the garrulous Dean was sort of like trying to hold back the night.

But nowadays the All-Star Game doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world. Players making millions of bucks use any excuse they can find to avoid showing up. Anybody with cable or satellite TV can see five or 10 games a day. Interleague play has destroyed the novelty of watching your favorites face stars from the other league and anyway your favorite American League player might be in the National League next season or the year after. There aren't even separate AL and NL offices anymore.

Welcome to All-Star Lite 2000.

But there would be hope for renewed excitement in July if an international format were started. It's no secret that other nations are catching up with us in talent: A quick check shows that about half the majors' top 20 hitters are foreign-born. Outstanding foreign pitchers, aided and abetted by the recent Japanese influx, also abound. So what are we waiting for? Is baseball still primarily our National Pastime? Let's throw down the gauntlet and find out.

Asked last week in Atlanta about the possibility of a new All-Star game plan, Major League Baseball CEO Paul Beeson replied, "I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't see it happening anytime soon." That's OK. Nothing in baseball happens anytime soon but the sooner the better."

Want a timetable for the first International All-Star Game? How about throwing the first pitch in July 2005 at the new Walter Johnson/Clark Griffith Park at Mount Vernon Square in downtown Washington?

Go ahead and laugh if you will. But in sports, never say never.

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