Dickey: MLB must learn from history

There is a simple way to make the All-Star Game a true game of All-Stars: Tell the managers to play to win.

Once, they did. Great players such as Ted Williams (1941) and Stan Musial (1955) decided games with what are now called walkoff homers. The managers of those teams never gave a thought to taking out those stars.

The first game in San Francisco in 1961, which was also the first I ever saw, was decided in the bottom of the 10th inning. The National League was trailing 4-3, but tied it when Henry Aaron walked and Willie Mays doubled him in. Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch and then Roberto Clemente singled him in.

Think about that: Aaron, Mays, Robinson, Clemente. All are in the Hall of Fame. And all of them were still in the game in the 10th inning.

Managers in that time had it right. The All-Star Game is an exhibition, but it should also be a display of the very best players. Now it’s treated like a spring training game: The best players, the ones voted into the starting lineup, play three or four innings and then come out, because the managers want to play everybody.

The inevitable result of that was the 2002 All-Star Game which had to be called after 10 innings, with the score tied 7-7 because managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly had run out of players.

Ironically, Torre had caught the whole game in 1965, but he defended his strategy of using every player.

“Am I going to say the starting lineup will play longer because I’m trying to win?” he said. “What’s it saying to the other guys who got to the All-Star Game, that they’re not good enough?”

No, what it’s saying is that they’re not the players the fans have paid to see. They want to see the true All-Stars, not players who are having one good half-season. If the reserves are good enough to become stars, their time will come. One example: Colorado outfielder Matt Holliday, who’s leading the league in hitting but made the National League team only as a reserve, is likely to play in multiple All-Star Games in the future.

The farcical end to the 2002 game led commissioner Bud Selig to make an equally farcical decision: The league which wins the All-Star Game gets the home-field advantage in the World Series. Never mind that the two events have nothing to do with each other.

There are other All-Star Game changes that need to be made. Theidea that every team must have a representative should be dropped. This year, because there was no player on the Kansas City roster who could legitimately be called an All-Star, pitcher Gil Meche, who has a 5-6 record, was chosen. That has to be an embarrassment, not a source of pride, to Meche.

And no matter where the game is played, the designated hitter should be used. The point is to display the best players in the game in the best fashion. Nobody needs to see David Ortiz demonstrating why the Boston Red Sox don’t play him on the field.

But mostly, we need to see managers playing to win and keeping their best players in the lineup. Then, we’d have a true All-Star Game, instead of a parade of wannabes late in the game.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.


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