By Skip Bayless
Page 2

When I was a kid, the All-Star Game was right up there with the World Series, at least to me.

Back then, the national pastime's star showcase dwarfed the NFL's and NBA's. I was Jack, looking up the bean stalk at baseball's All-Stars.

Those were the days when players were often lifelong National or American Leaguers, and they actually gave you the feeling they hated each other and played for blood.

I mean, Pete Rose scored the winning run in 1970 at Riverfront by running over catcher Ray Fosse at home plate. Fosse was never quite the same after that collision.

In those days I once ran away from home -- for about an hour -- when my mom ordered me to attend my grandmother's birthday dinner and risk missing an inning or two of an All-Star Game.

But somewhere around the turn of this century, I grew up.

Or woke up and wised up.

I realized how much I cherish my nightly baseball and my pennant races and my playoffs and the teams I root for.

Kenny Rogers
Jeff Roberson/AP Photo
Some Tigers fans probably aren't too thrilled that Kenny Rogers has to pitch in the All-Star Game.

I realized how much I want my 162-game season and my best-of-19-game October to be the highest quality possible. So I find myself sympathizing with the many veteran stars who don't want to spend a much-needed three-day break in July flying to and from the All-Star city and slugging their guts out in the Home Run Derby on Monday night and playing in the game on Tuesday night.

They perform for us nearly every day for … six … straight … months. Yes, they make incomprehensible amounts of money to do so. But wouldn't the fans of their teams be better served if these stars could rest physically and mentally for a mere three days at midseason?

You always hear that the All-Star Game is "for the fans." But do Detroit Tigers fans really want their ace, Kenny Rogers, to have to warm up and pitch two pressurized innings Tuesday night?

Don't tell me players don't care how they perform once they're out there. No, a pitcher doesn't want to get lit up and embarrassed on national TV any more than a hitter wants to get fooled and flail at three straight pitches.

Shouldn't Red Sox fans be glad that Manny Ramirez is exaggerating a knee injury so he doesn't have to find his way to Pittsburgh and back? Manny played 19 innings on Sunday before the Red Sox finally lost to the White Sox.

When Buster Olney proposed on that players should declare before the season whether or not they want to play in the All-Star game, so they can be scratched from the ballot, Harold Reynolds responded on "Baseball Tonight" that, given that choice, 80 percent of players wouldn't play.

Can you really blame them?

Now, I'm not sure I'd really miss the All-Star Game if it finally outlived itself and became extinct.

It's like encouraging kids to shoot handheld fireworks on the Fourth. At what point does America wake up and ask: How and why did this "great" tradition ever start? To celebrate winning a war against the British for our freedom, we encourage our children to set off small bombs and launch little rockets in the backyard?

That, of course, is insane.

In some ways, the All-Star Game is nearly as strange. We pick All-Stars from just the first half of the season? Would the teams look the same after the stretch runs? No. All-Star teams are often littered with first-half wonders.

I wouldn't mind seeing All-Stars announced the final week of the season -- and I would dearly love to see them picked by players and managers only. We could still spend the days leading up to and the days following the announcement debating who should and shouldn't make it. And in each city, fans could take just as much pride -- maybe more -- in knowing their All-Stars were selected by peers for an entire season.

That would be an All-Star team.

Never mind playing an All-Star game.

Seriously, how credible is an All-Star game when you let fans vote for the starters and the final man on each team? Right, it does my heart good to know the White Sox conducted a "Punch A.J." PR campaign so their fans would vote everybody's favorite wrestling-style villain -- A. J. Pierzynski -- onto the team instead of baseball's hottest pitcher, Francisco Liriano.

Ain't that America.

But, of course, baseball's owners would sooner eliminate home runs than phase out the All-Star Game. It's roughly their equivalent of the Super Bowl. It's what they dangle when trying to get a city to fund a new stadium.

How about the All-Star Game in 2032?

Nobody ever really stops to think about what this game has become. It's still as American as kids lighting and throwing little sticks of gun powder.

Wait: The commissioner remains so desperate to induce the players to take this game seriously that he rewards home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league? Absolute lunacy.

Ever stopped to wonder why baseball doesn't reward World Series home field the right and only way -- by regular-season record? That's the way the NBA does it. The Dallas Mavericks earned home court for the Finals with a better regular-season record than Miami, so the Mavs got the first two and last two at home.

Baseball's excuse? It would be a logistical nightmare to reserve enough hotel space to cover all the possible World Series schedules if best record dictated where it started. Huh? The NBA pulls it off every June, and the NBA has to move nearly as many media members and sponsors and officials as baseball.

Manny Ramirez
Luis A. Alvarez/AP Photo
Maybe Manny's right -- maybe all these guys should just take a break.

So now, the site of the seventh game of the World Series depends on the outcome of an exhibition game between the leagues? A midsummer night's bad dream.

Does baseball ever live in -- and on -- its past. Does our "national pastime" ever benefit from generation upon generation of fans who keep turning turnstiles no matter what baseball does. Hey, let 'em keep voting for All-Stars and they won't question much of anything.

Speaking of the NBA, its All-Star game works for an entirely different reason. It's played on a Sunday, and its All-Star Weekend has become the world's largest and wildest party. Most players look forward to the festivities and the scenery, and so many celebrities are in the first few rows at the game that players want to put on a show for them.

That's not the case at Tuesday's All-Star Game.

In fact, for the last few years, I've come to enjoy Monday's Home Run Derby far more than the game. Yet now it suffers from the same problem the game does: The best home-run hitters don't want to participate more than once or twice.

I can't blame them, either.

Too pressurized. Too grueling. Too draining.

If you're a Red Sox fan, do you really want David Ortiz playing 19 innings Sunday in Chicago, then wearing himself out swinging for the fences through three rounds of Monday night's Home Run Derby, then playing Tuesday night's game, then dealing with two airports and a flight on Wednesday?

Absolutely not.

That's why baseball's All-Star Game has become pretty much like the NFL's: Players want to be selected, but they don't want to play.

Actually, NFL Pro Bowl players want to go to their after-the-season week in Hawaii. But they don't want to actually play tackle football.

Now, the only players who truly want to play in baseball's All-Star game are the first-timers, the David Wrights and Jonathan Papelbons. But their second trips won't be nearly so neat. And their third and fourth trips -- if they're so fortunate -- they'll probably consider a pain.

If I were 10 years old today, I'd like to think I'd be smart enough not to get too psyched for an exhibition game that 80 percent of the players don't want to play. I'd just bide my time until Thursday, when I could return to watching every star in every game every night on my baseball package.

Oh, to be 10 in 2006.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.