- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

CHICAGO.

You’d think since baseball has been doing this for 70 years by now it could get it right. But it has screwed the All-Star Game up so bad that Arch Ward — the late Chicago Tribune sports editor who came up with the idea — would have to write a column ripping baseball for what it has done with the event he started.

And if it is good enough for Arch Ward, then it is good enough for me.

Baseball can’t even get the rosters right, and I’m not talking about the convoluted way the players became part of the selection process (which apparently, was a real hit in clubhouses because many players didn’t even bother to participate). Yesterday, as Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito sat in a ballroom at the Westin Hotel being interviewed by reporters with his American League All-Star teammates, he was informed by several writers that he was no longer on the active roster for tonight’s game.

Zito, looking stunned, said, “No one has told me anything,” and then he learned it was true. He was dropped from the active roster because his team informed league officials Sunday that he would not be able to pitch. The only thing is, they didn’t tell Zito, who made the trip here to Chicago to participate and was embarrassed he had to get the news from reporters.

“I don’t get it,” Zito said. “I’m not hurt. It’s like you’ve got a girlfriend and a friend comes up and tells you that she doesn’t want to date you anymore.”

Oakland general manager Billy Beane figured by telling the league it would somehow get back to his pitcher. Maybe Mr. Moneyball should spend some dough on communication skills, although Beane said he told A’s manager Ken Macha to tell Zito. Macha told the Associated Press that “we told him that it wasn’t prudent for him to pitch.” Zito threw more than 100 pitches on Sunday, and it most definitely wasn’t prudent for him to pitch tonight. But he looked awfully disappointed and disturbed during yesterday’s interview session.

Baseball made up for some of the misguided All-Star selections by naming Roger Clemens to replace Zito, but he should have been here anyway. It has thoroughly fouled up what used to be the only All-Star game worth watching, but, then again, the event may be beyond repair. Gone are the days when the players used to approach this game for league pride.

“I remember my first All-Star Game in 1981 in Cleveland,” said Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who will lead the NL squad. “I walked into the clubhouse, and Pete Rose greeted me at the door and told me, ‘We haven’t lost to these guys in like nine years. So we’re not going to lose now.’”

No one has been giving “us vs. them” pep talks in the locker rooms in recent games, though. If a new player walks into the clubhouse today, he might be greeted by a veteran to compare airline schedules for the quickest way out of town.

Tonight is going to be different, though. Tonight, baseball is saying, “It really counts.” That may be, except it counts for the wrong thing, perverting two baseball events, the All-Star Game and the World Series.

The league that wins tonight’s game at U.S. Cellular Field wins home-field advantage for the World Series. This was the reaction to last year’s All-Star debacle, which ended in a 7-7 tie at Miller Park in Milwaukee after 11 innings when managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly ran out of players, forcing baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig to call the game in his hometown ballpark.

All baseball has done, though, is potentially trade one mess for another. This change means the destiny of the best team in baseball at the end of the year is in the hands of players from every other team, some of whom, if they weren’t getting their All-Star contract bonuses, would just as soon be taking a break at home.

There isn’t even an American League or National League anymore, officially. The offices were dissolved several years ago. They trotted out some “honorary” league presidents for this event — former Phillies owner Bill Giles as NL “president” and former Angels owner Jackie Autry as AL “president.” But it is an illusion, and with interleague play and free agency allowing more player movement than ever between leagues, baby, the passion is gone.

What will be different about tonight is the scrutiny the managers will be under, how they use their pitchers, how long their star players stay in the game and whether they will use every player on the roster.

“A lot depends on the score and the game,” Baker said. “I’m going to try to play guys. I’m going to try to win the game, as I do every game. I don’t care if I’m playing my mom, daughter or my wife. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to try to win.”

AL manager Mike Scioscia was a little more realistic about the balance of winning and trying to get all 32 players in the game. “It’s going to be very difficult to do both,” he said. “So I would like to say right now that I will probably have to apologize to some guys in advance, that there’s a probability that they won’t play.”

That’s good, Mike. Let’s start apologizing before the game. Let’s set the tone early.


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