This is my Tuesday column.
Tuesday’s All-Star Game should be fun. The best baseball players from the National League and the American League playing a light-hearted exhibition game. Putting on a show.
But Tuesday’s All-Star Game will be more than just a show — it will be a competition with consequences. The winning league will receive home-field advantage for the seventh and final game of the World Series.
Major League Baseball’s least important game will determine its most important game.
All because Bud Selig overreacted in 2002. Remember what happened in 2002? The score was tied 7-7 in the 11th inning, and both the American League and the National League ran out of pitchers. Guys typically throw between 10 and 30 pitches in an All-Star game — throwing any more would mean risking injury.
So, after the 11th inning the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie. Fans booed. Selig, sitting in the stands in Milwaukee, his hometown, took the boos to heart. He raised the stakes of the game the next year, designating the All-Star Game as the basis for home-field advantage in the World Series.
He probably didn’t realize just how high he raised the stakes. Of the past 29 World Series Champions, 23 had the home-field advantage — almost 80 percent. So there’s a four-in-five chance the outcome of Tuesday’s All-Star Game will decide the outcome of this season’s World Series.
Good going, Bud.
Was it such a tragedy that an exhibition game ended in a tie? Do people even watch this game to see who wins and loses? I know I don’t. Do you remember the final score last year?
I went to the All-Star Game in 2007, the one at AT&T Park. Sat in center field with my dad. Don’t remember which team won. I had to look it up. The American League won 5-4.
But I remember Ichiro stole the show. It started before the game when he was shagging fly balls in the outfield. He’d get ready to make the catch, hands above his head, and then he’d duck down as if inspecting a smudge on his spikes just before the ball arrived. Then he’d catch it behind his back. He did this over and over again, a showman grabbing the spotlight.
When batting practice started, some of the best sluggers in the game — we’re talking Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Manny Ramirez, Chase Utley, Vladimir Guerrero and Carlos Beltran – took turns blasting baseballs into the bleachers.
Can you guess which player slugged the most home runs during batting practice?
Ichiro. By far. Almost every ball he hit cleared the big brick fence in right field. Not by much — he didn’t reach McCovey Cove — but a home run is a home run, and I’ve never seen someone hit so many so effortlessly. Ichiro probably would have won the Home Run Derby every year if Major League Baseball had invited him to participate.
The 2007 All-Star Game hadn’t started, and I felt I had gotten my dad’s money’s worth.
In the top of the fifth, Ichiro came to the plate with a runner on first base. Ichiro hit a rope off the first archway in right-center field, Griffey Jr. misplayed the bounce off the wall, the runner scored and Ichiro did as well — a two-run inside-the-park home run.
The best player on the field seemed to be having the most fun.
That’s the spirit of an All-Star Game — players enjoying themselves. They’ve earned the privilege to have fun. They shouldn’t have to compete seriously and potentially suffer a serious injury that could affect real games.
That’s why Pete Rose’s full-speed collision with Ray Fosse at home plate in the 1970 All-Star Game was so awful and needless. Rose was the only person playing hard. Everyone one else, including Fosse, was having fun, as they should have.
Fosse didn’t brace for the hit — he probably didn’t expect it. Rose barreled into him, fracturing and separating Fosse’s shoulder, which affected the rest of Fosse’s career. He never was the same. What an unnecessary tragedy.
Baseball is asking for another one by making a mere exhibition game competitive. Home-field advantage in the World Series should alternate every year between leagues like it used to. The All-Star Game should determine nothing.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.