As managers of the All-Star Game next week, please accept my condolences. I know there are less painful ways that you could be spending your All-Star break. Dental surgery comes to mind.
As you know, you are asked to treat the All-Star Game like "it counts." Home-field advantage in the World Series is on the line. That's no small prize. Teams with the home-field advantage (which has become mostly about opening at home, considering we haven't seen a Game 7 in nine years) have won 12 of the 16 World Series in the wild-card era. Home teams are 51-34 (.600) in individual Series games.
That's cool; there is some real meaning attached to the game in Phoenix next Tuesday. However, you are asked to run it like a school recess kickball game -- a very crowded game -- making sure everybody gets in and everybody has a good time. These are two competing agendas that, try as you might, cannot be balanced.
How did the All-Star Game become so bloated? Expansion, roster nonsense and the "everybody must play" mentality have put you in this bad spot. Over the years baseball has dulled the All-Star Game by adding more teams to the leagues and more players to the rosters. Take a look at this: the average number of players used in an All-Star Game by decade since 1963, when baseball switched to one All-Star Game per year:
1960s: 42.41970s: 46.51980s: 50.01990s: 51.92000s: 55.92010: 58
In 50 years we have added 16 players to the same (scheduled) nine-inning game. It's bound to be ugly. Last year, your predecessors, Charlie Manuel and Joe Girardi, made 17 pitching changes. How exciting.
And keep this in mind, guys, when you're running a game that should be for the fans: Albert Pujols received more votes than any other National League player last year. And who was the first NL position player pulled from the game? That's right, Pujols, the NL player the fans most wanted to see. He checked out after two at-bats and three innings. Ron, take a look at the record 7.4 million votes for Jose Bautista this year before you even think about taking him out before the seventh inning.
With so many quick hooks, the endings of these games become anticlimactic because the best All-Stars are long gone. In 1967, for instance, the NL sent Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron to bat against Catfish Hunter in the top of the 14th. Clemente and Aaron played the entire game.
Last year this is what the NL sent to bat in the top of the ninth: Michael Bourn, Chris Young and Marlon Byrd against Jose Valverde. Somehow it did not make the brackets of MLB's "Greatest All-Star Moments" voting.
Where did everything go wrong? Let me give you a quick understanding of the game's history. League pride really mattered back in the day -- before free agency, interleague play and centralized umpiring began eroding the distinctions between the leagues.
Lefty Grove threw six innings in the '35 All-Star Game, and Hunter threw five innings of relief in that '67 extra-inning game. That may seem excessive, but pitchers often threw three innings. Even as recently as the 1980s, pitchers threw three innings 14 times. It's been done only twice since then.
There have been 128 occasions in which a player has come to the plate at least five times in an All-Star Game. But it's happened only six times since '98 -- all of them in the 15-inning game in 2008 and only because the benches were depleted.
One turning point in how the game is managed occurred in '93, when AL manager Cito Gaston used his Toronto closer, Duane Ward, to close the game in Baltimore while hometown hero Mike Mussina warmed in the bullpen for nothing more than a routine side session. The "snub" of Mussina outraged Baltimore fans, who booed Ward and chanted "We want Mike," and angered Orioles executives Roland Hemond ("I lost my cool," he said) and Larry Lucchino (who asked an MLB lawyer to mediate a debate with Toronto CEO Paul Beeston). The episode overshadowed the game. Managers figured out that the best way to avoid such controversies would be to get every last player into the game.
The jump in player usage became obvious in '98, the second expansion year in a five-year period. The number of players used in the game jumped from 49 to 55, and we've never been below 50 since.
More infamously, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox managed themselves into a tie in Milwaukee in '02. Nobody wanted to ask the pitchers in the game at the time, Freddy Garcia and Vicente Padilla (not exactly a facsimile of Hunter vs. Seaver at the end of the '67 marathon), to keep pitching after they had thrown two innings. Garcia, working on four days' rest, had thrown 31 pitches. Padilla, also on four days' rest, had thrown 25 pitches. And so they shut down the All-Star Game without a winner rather than ask them to pitch a third inning.
Sixty players were used in that game, a record until an infantry division of 63 was deployed in the '08 game.
Of course, many All-Stars never even make it to the game. Last year 82 players were named to the All-Star team, with many of them replaced because of injuries or pitching schedules. Eighty-two! (So please don't pay attention to all the wailing over the next week about All-Star "snubs.") If you looked at all the players who qualified for the ERA and batting titles or saved at least 20 games, that means 30 percent of all regular players last year were All-Stars. (In '70, changing the minimum saves to 15, 27.4 percent of all regular players were All-Stars.)
So now you understand your problem. You're supposed to manage a game that is being sold as meaningful, but you're also expected to put on a good show and run about 60 players into a nine-inning game. You can't win -- maybe not quite as literally as Torre and Cox in '02, but you get the idea.
It's time to do something about it, and you can be the ones to bring reform to the All-Star Game. Here's what you should do:
• Tell commissioner Bud Selig that not every team needs to be represented. You should make the game on merit, not on quotas. The only team that must be represented is the host team of the All-Star Game. You can thank Orioles fans for that suggestion.
• Keep the biggest stars in the game. Hank Aaron averaged three plate appearances per All-Star Game.
• Don't play everyone. This is not a church picnic softball game. And it's not a 25-man roster. There are just too many players.
• Resist the urge to play the bullpen matchup game that sends viewers running to their remotes. These are All-Stars, guys. They should be able to get out batters regardless of whether they hit left-handed or right-handed.
• And if nothing changes and you get this chance again, just bring a note from your dentist to get out of it.