All-Star Game takes on whole new look
CHICAGO -- Scott Rolen cringes. To him, the notion that players will now try harder in the All-Star game because ''this time it counts'' -- as TV keeps bleating -- is crazy.
''I think it's insulting to think guys don't go out and give everything they have when they step on an All-Star field,'' the NL's starting third baseman said.
''You don't need added motivation,'' the St. Louis slugger said. ''There's no lack of effort, at all.''
But the fact is, there is something significant at stake this time. The league that wins the All-Star game gets home-field advantage in the World Series -- and it is a big edge, with the home team having won the last eight Game 7s.
That said, Tuesday night's event at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago could take on a different look.
As in, it may not come down to a bullpen battle between relative newcomer Lance Carter and ineffective Mike Williams. Barry Bonds might not hoist Ichiro Suzuki after getting robbed of a home run. There could be an intentional walk or a sacrifice bunt, and pitchers might go longer -- no AL starter has gone three innings since Bret Saberhagen in 1987.
''I think you'll see the managers put a little more emphasis on winning the ballgame as opposed to trying to get everybody into the ballgame. And that's really the way it should be,'' said Tampa Bay's Lou Piniella, who guided the NL in 1991.
No telling whether those playful snapshots will disappear.
Randy Johnson produced a couple with a pair of over-the-top pitches, causing John Kruk to pat his heart in 1993 and Larry Walker to turn around and bat right-handed in 1997. Chances are Tommy Lasorda won't show up in the third-base coaching box and take a tumble, either, as he did in 2001.
Yet unlike All-Star games in other sports, baseball doesn't lend itself to holding back. There may be no blitzing in the Pro Bowl, little defense in the NBA and hardly any checking in the NHL showcases, but no pitcher is going to throw 65 mph fastballs and no hitter is going to try to make outs.
Linking the All-Star game to the World Series -- a two-year experiment that drew the ire of many fans -- was prompted by Fox after its telecast last July drew an all-time low rating.
There also was an outcry after the game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings at Miller Park when both teams ran out of pitchers. The result was so disastrous that commissioner Bud Selig was booed in his own Milwaukee backyard -- the outcome also forced rosters to expand from 30 to 32, giving each team 12 pitchers.
Fox will treat it a more like a real game, too. No interviews with players until they're taken out and no back-and-forth banter between managers Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia, the way Joe Torre and Bob Brenly did last time.
The All-Star switch is certainly not going to affect the Detroit Tigers, who by far have the worst record in the majors. Yet their lone representative, outfielder Dmitri Young, is well aware of what the game means.
''I just know that if the American League loses and our champions don't get the home-field advantage against a National League wild-card team with 88 wins, they are going to be pretty upset,'' he said.
''I'm not going to be thinking about it -- I'm just looking forward to playing in the game. I think it is just a reaction to last year's fiasco,'' he said.
Baker, who managed San Francisco last October when it lost Game 7 at Anaheim, figures players will be as serious as ever. They had a role this time, getting an All-Star vote for the first time since 1969.
Sammy Sosa surely didn't hold back last year when he tried to hustle from first-to-third on a single to left field and was thrown out by Manny Ramirez. And Torii Hunter went all out to snatch away a home run from Bonds, who wrapped his arms around the Minnesota center fielder and lifted him high.
''These guys wouldn't be All-Stars if they didn't play hard,'' said Baker, now with the Chicago Cubs. ''If a guy has that much pride and inner drive to succeed to where he is, that will certainly translate to the All-Star game.''
''These guys will have the same attitude in an Old-Timers game. Most of these guys, all they know how to do is to play hard and try to win,'' he said.
OK, but how hard? Does the home-field angle alter anything?
''I guess you have to decide it some way. Flip a coin, go run around the bases or something,'' Cincinnati second baseman Aaron Boone said.
''I don't think it's going to be a motivating factor for anyone,'' he said. ''I mean, you're not going to take somebody out or try and kill somebody just to win home-field advantage.''
Or, as Reds teammate Ken Griffey Jr. said: ''Hopefully, nobody gets hurt. We don't want another Pete Rose situation where somebody's career is ended.''
Ah, the Pete Rose situation.
Since Babe Ruth homered at old Comiskey Park in the first All-Star game in 1933, there have been lots of magic moments in the midsummer classic.
Carl Hubbell struck out five straight future Hall of Famers in 1934. Ted Williams jumped for joy after hitting a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to win in 1941. Reggie Jackson homered off the light tower at Tiger Stadium in 1971. Pedro Martinez fanned four MVPs and home-run champion Mark McGwire at Fenway Park in 1999.
Still, nothing ever defined a time when the All-Star game really meant something as when Rose struck a blow for NL pride, crashing into Cleveland's Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the bottom of 12th inning in 1970. Fosse separated his shoulder on the play and his career was never the same.
That victory at Riverfront Stadium came during a streak in which the NL won 19 of 20 games. The NL currently leads the overall series 40-31 with two ties -- last year's result left intact the AL's five-game winning streak.
Los Angeles closer Eric Gagne would like to shut down the AL's string. Even though there are World Series implications, don't expect his scowl to be any more severe.
''It doesn't change anything for me. Nobody cares about that,'' he said. ''I mean, when I step between the lines, it doesn't matter to me if it's an exhibition game or the All-Star game or a big division game or to warm up.''