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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
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July 12,2000

All-Star Game Blahs

I watched the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, just like I have every year since the mid-1970s. As always, I rooted for certain players—like Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Jason Kendall—the ones who play the game with intelligence and desire, and with an absence of showboating and unsportsmanlike behavior. Yet, it’s not the same All-Star Game that I remember from the days of my youth. In general, there’s a lack of passion with the All-Stars today. There’s a lack of league pride, along with a severe lessening of what was once an All-Star Game priority: winning the game. Now it seems like the All-Stars are most intent on having a good time while preening for the TV cameras. Unfortunately, that’s not what the All-Star Game was meant to be, or should be. In the 1960s and seventies, the intensity of the All-Star Game was epitomized—perhaps to an extreme—by Pete Rose’s ferocious home plate collision with Indians catcher Ray Fosse. Now the All-Star Game is symbolized by the presence of camcorders and players’ children in the dugouts—while the game is going on, no less. (Can you imagine how past All-Stars like Rose and Bob Gibson would have reacted to that?) And people wonder why the All-Star Game isn’t taken as seriously as it once was. I’ve expressed these complaints previously, only to be accused of being old-fashioned and out of step with the new, cool attitude. "Chill out, it’s only an exhibition game," I’ve been told in no uncertain terms—time and time again. At that point in the conversation, I’ve usually dropped the argument, unwilling to cook my blood pressure any higher. Well, no more. The All-Star Game is not just an exhibition game, not like one of those meaningless games in the Cactus or Grapefruit leagues, with minor leaguers dotting the lineup from the fifth inning on. It’s not a game where the main object should be to give everybody a chance to play (which has become the politically correct obsession of even excellent managers like Joe Torre), without regard to the score or the situation. It shouldn’t be played like some intramural game on a college campus, or like a softball game in the local beer league. So what is the All-Star Game really all about, and how should it be played? From its inception, it’s a game that was intended to showcase the best players from teams in the American and National leagues—leagues that are in the business of staging real pennant races that help decide the game’s world championship—playing at their utmost. It’s a game that is continually played in front of sold-out stadiums at premium prices, in front of millions of fans who have access to the game over radio, television, and now, the internet. It is a game that celebrates the game of baseball at a time of year when no other major professional sports are putting forth real competition, a chance to make baseball more popular in its ongoing struggle against the likes of football and basketball. Given all of this, it is a game that should be played to win—with intensity, passion, and pride—for the full benefit of those fans who support the national pastime throughout the year. So let’s get rid of the camcorders, take the players’ kids out of the dugouts, stop the laughing and the joking, and start playing the All-Star Game to win, like the players once did. This is OUR GAME, the fans’ game. Let’s start playing it like that. Anything less is both a put-on and a sham.

Random Thoughts

Here’s more evidence of the players’ growing disrespectful attitude toward the All-Star Game. Ken Griffey, Jr.—the master of illogical statements and behavior—deemed himself healthy enough to participate in the Home Run Derby, but not the All-Star Game itself. If Griffey felt well enough to swing a bat in the Derby, he should have be well enough to pinch-hit in Tuesday’s game. Baseball needs to institute a new rule that will allow players to take part in the Derby only if they declare themselves available and ready for the All-Star Game… Speaking of illogical statements, Mike Piazza authored one the day after his beaning at the hands of Roger Clemens. In accusing Clemens of intentionally throwing at his head, Piazza spoke of Clemens having "very good control." Say what? Just about anyone who has watched Yankee games over the last two years would disagree. Last year, Clemens walked 90 batters despite logging only 188 innings. That comes out to an average of about four and a half walks per nine innings, a poor walk ratio and by far the worst of Clemens’ career. Clemens’ control has been only slightly better this year, with his walks ratio at roughly four per nine innings. This isn’t exactly Bob Tewksbury-like control we’re talking about here … Lost amidst the controversy of the Clemens-Piazza Subway Series affair was the Yankees’ season-ending loss of starting left fielder Shane Spencer, who had very quietly become both a reliable bottom-of-the-order hitter and New York’s best defensive outfielder. At some point, the Yankees will have to address this latest hole through a trade or the waiver wire. Otherwise, it’s not going to be easy to win the American League East with Ryan Thompson (the Yankees’ best available minor league option) taking up three to four at-bats every day… Here’s another one to file in the "I Don’t Get It" Department. In his recent internet column about the Futures Game, Peter Gammons raved about several minor league prospects, including last year’s top pick of the Devil Rays. "Tampa’s Josh Hamilton reeks of star as well," wrote Gammons, "and not because of those size 19 shoes." Huh? Since when did having large feet have anything to do with stardom? Oh well, I guess the professional clowns who read baseball on the internet will be glad to hear that… Two more names can be added to the list of returning Hall of Famers for this year’s Induction Ceremonies in Cooperstown. Juan Marichal and Willie Stargell have expressed their intentions to attend Hall of Fame Weekend, which takes place on July 22, 23, and 24. With the additions of "Pops" and "The Dominican Dandy," a record 49 Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in Cooperstown for this year’s induction.

Next In Line in Pittsburgh?

Although Pirates ownership has given Gene Lamont a vote of confidence that he won’t be fired during the current season, it’s become a foregone conclusion that management will allow his contract to run out after the 2001 season. Lamont is well-liked by almost everybody in the Pittsburgh organization, but even some of his strong supporters bemoan his lack of fire and intensity during games. Given his continually placid demeanor during the Pirates’ first-half free fall, the time to make a change in Pittsburgh might be coming soon… Assuming the Pirates don’t make a major second-half turnaround, who do they turn to for future managerial leadership? It’s no secret that owner Kevin McClatchy thinks very highly of the Giants’ Dusty Baker, whose contract with San Francisco also runs out at season’s end. Baker continues to draw criticism from the obsessive-compulsive Sabermetric pitch counters, but consistently keeps the Giants in pennant races against more talented teams like Arizona and Los Angeles. Baker would also make Pittsburgh a more desirable destination for free agents in the future. Most players adore the notion of playing for Baker… Should the Pirates decide to stay in-house in selecting Lamont’s successor, they could do a lot worse than to give Triple-A skipper and former World Series hero Richie Hebner his first crack at big league managing. Hebner, who has worked for several organizations as a minor league coach and instructor, would love to manage in the major leagues—especially for the organization that drafted and developed him as a player in the late 1960s… Another former Pirate from years gone by would also be a deserving choice. He’s Dave Cash, who has managed at several different levels in the minors and also coached in the majors with the Phillies. Smart and well-spoken, Cash has a history of serving as a good influence on young players. In the mid-1970s, Cash helped a young third baseman named Mike Schmidt mature and settle into major league manhood. To this day, Schmidt credits Cash with helping him become a Hall of Fame player… Cash, currently a coach with the Rochester Red Wings (Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate), is one of those names that is rarely mentioned when the subject of potential African-American and minority managers is brought up. It’s about time that Cash is put on that list, along with Yankee coaches Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph, White Sox batting instructor Von Joshua, Brewers coach Jerry Royster, minor league skipper Tom Spencer, and Giants batting coach Gene Clines.

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