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Monday, July 8, 2002
Remaking of a Classic: U.S. vs. the World

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

Baseball used to be able to say it had the one All-Star Game that mattered. No longer.

Obviously, the All-Star Game doesn't matter to the four players who have already phoned in sick for Tuesday's game. Pedro Martinez is missing the game due to personal reasons. Matt Morris is worn out emotionally. Tom Glavine has a blister. Randy Johnson wants to be with his family. Any minute now, Barry Bonds will say he can't make it because he has to wash Jeff Kent's truck instead.

Off Base Power Rankings
1. Ted Williams
There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived
2. Yankees
George considers buying Dominican Republic for second-half run
3. Atlanta
Has been in first place so long it recently received national historic status for the site
4. Mariners
Edgar rejects Viagra endorsement, still considering Hustler magazine
5. Venus & Serena Williams
Best sister act since Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney
6. Smallpox
As precaution, government also will inoculate Chicago fans against pennant fever
7. All-Star Game
More no-shows than a Detroit Lions game
8. White Sox
Big Hurt shows punctuality of cable TV guy
9. John Henry Williams
Ted's kid working on new book: "The Cryogenics of Hitting"
10. Wall Street
The Brewers of financial markets

I would criticize them but why single out four people among the many millions who share their apathy? The All-Star Game's biggest problem is that no one has cared who actually wins the game since Pete Rose stopped betting on the National League.

The fans only care about the Home Run Derby. The marketers only care about removing as much money from as many wallets as possible at the FanFest. The TV and Hollywood suits only care about hyping their actors in the celebrity game. The league executives and union reps only care about pleading their cases in front of a national audience. The managers only care about getting everyone into the game. And the players only care about showering quick enough to catch a flight home so they can cash their incentive bonuses.

"After two days of everything else, the game is almost anti-climactic," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.

Face it. Every year the All-Star Game moves one step closer to the Pro Bowl, only without the bikinis on Waikiki. The game has become so meaningless that I couldn't say for sure who won the last two All-Star Games -- and I covered both of them.

What baseball needs to do is make the game's outcome important again. Bud Selig's proposal to let the winning league get home field advantage in the World Series is one good suggestion but I'm afraid it will take more extreme action to return pride to the teams. Interleague play robbed the mystique from a National League-American League clash, so let's return it with a different matchup.

Let's pit All-Stars from the U.S. against All-Stars from the rest of the world.

Forget about getting a player from every team -- it's bad enough that Tampa Bay fans must watch the Devil Rays, don't make everyone else suffer -- let's just match up our best players against their best players.

Pedro may not be interested in representing the American League in a meaningless exhibition game, but you damn well know he would care about pitching for his country.

It would be terrific. Imagine Derek Jeter at short for the U.S., Ichiro leading off and representing Japan, Sammy Sosa batting cleanup and representing the Dominican Republic, and Roger Clemens on the mound representing the planet Neptune.

Or better yet, just look at these possible starting lineups selected from among the players who made this year's All-Star rosters:
Pos U.S.              World Team
C   Mike Piazza       Jorge Posada, Puerto Rico        
1B  Jason Giambi      Mike Lowell*, Puerto Rico
2B  Junior Spivey     Alfonso Soriano, Dom. Rep.
SS  Alex Rodriguez    Miguel Tejada, Dom. Rep.
3B  Shea Hillenbrand  Tony Batista, Dom. Rep.
OF  Barry Bonds       Sammy Sosa, Dom. Rep.
OF  Torii Hunter      Ichiro, Japan
OF  Shawn Green       Vlad Guerrero, Dom. Rep.
SP  Curt Schilling    Pedro Martinez, Dom. Rep.
RP  John Smoltz       Eric Gagne, Canada
* Lowell was shifted from third base to first

True, with only 30 roster spots for U.S. players, even more players would feel snubbed when they aren't selected to the All-Star team. Big deal. Life's tough. The game is for the fans, anyway. Better to make the game more competitive and interesting for them than to pander to the players and their contract incentives.

Besides, you wouldn't be limiting U.S. players that much. As it is, 24 foreign players were named to the All-Star teams this year. Get rid of the rule requiring at least one player from every team -- good-bye Robert Fick and Randy Winn, hello, Larry Walker and Kasu Ishii -- and you're almost at a 50-50 balance without snubbing anyone.

The U.S. versus the World format would be a significant and regrettable break from tradition, but baseball already ruined tradition with interleague play anyway; this restructuring would simply restore some luster to the game.

This format isn't a new idea, nor an original one. But it is a good one. It works for the NHL's All-Star Game. It works for golf's Ryder Cup. And it would work for baseball, enough so that the All-Star Game would become the Midsummer Classic again.

Box score line of the week
Evidently, that humidor isn't working too well.

Even with the Rockies keeping their baseball moist, they still haven't been able to solve their pitching woes. They enter the break with the highest ERA in the National League. They signed Mike Hampton to a $121 million contract two winters ago and he's 5-9 with a 6.73 ERA. They signed Denny Neagle to a $51 million contract and he's 4-6 with a 6.06 ERA.

He's also not in the starting rotation anymore. Not after allowing a career-high 10 runs against the Giants last Tuesday. It was such a bad day for Neagle that when manager Clint Hurdle lifted him for a pinch-hitter, the pinch-hitter was Hampton. "Sometimes the game doesn't make any sense," Neagle told reporters of his day.

Neagle's line:

2 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 0 K

Hurdle told reporters that Neagle's move to the pen "isn't a trip to Siberia" but maybe it should be. Perhaps least the ball wouldn't carry as far there.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
Frank Deford is a superb writer and his piece on Bud Selig in this week's Sports illustrated is a good read, but even he makes the erroneous assumption so many others do about alleged competitive imbalance when he writes that "only a handful of clubs can give their fans reasonable hope." Hmmm. We're sorry if this is getting repetitive but if that's the case, how come the Twins, who weren't supposed to exist this season, enter the All-Star break with a 7 ½ game lead? How come the Expos, who weren't supposed to exist either, have a better record than the Mets and a decent shot at the wild card? How come the Reds are just a game out of first place? How come the Cardinals are in first place? How come the Mariners, who play in the same sized market as Minnesota, have the best broadcasting deal in baseball and took in more money than every team but the Yankees last year? Look, teams do not have an inalienable right to play in the World Series and just because they don't reach the series doesn't mean they aren't worth watching (the Cubs prove this year after year). The fact is, the majority of well-run teams do enter each year with a reasonable chance to reach the postseason. About half still have a chance to reach it as the second half opens. And that's not so bad. ... As we pause to honor the late, great Ted Williams, let us also remember that when he hit .406 in 1941, sacrifice flies counted against a batter's average (as well they should). Under current guidelines, he would have hit .416. ... How great a season did Teddy Ballgame and Joe DiMaggio have in 1941? They struck out 40 times combined, while hitting a combined .379 with 67 home runs and 245 RBI. ... Baseball barely averted a major controversy when the Japanese computer votes came in and Shinjo rose to fourth among National League All-Star outfielders. He received nearly twice as many votes as Lance Berkman, and 600,000 more than Andruw Jones. ... And last, it's good to see that with the possible Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster deals that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is hard at work destroying another franchise. This man has a say in the way baseball is run and yet people complain about the players union? Give us a break.

From left field
Yes, Ted Williams solidified his legacy when he homered in his final at-bat but often forgotten is that he didn't announce it was his final at-bat until after the home run. Everyone figured it was his last at-bat at Fenway Park but the Red Sox still had a series in New York left to play. But Ted certainly knew when to make an exit and he announced he wouldn't make the final road trip after the game, thereby ending his career and ensuring the finest farewell a player could imagine.

Not everyone is so fortunate, though. Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn was doubled up in a triple play in the final game of the Mets' first season and retired after the game, saying, "If I have to be a benchwarmer for the New York Mets, I'll commit suicide."

Here are how 15 legendary players went out:

Player The dish
Hank Aaron Singled off Dave Roberts
Roberto Clemente Got 3,000th hit
Ty Cobb Popped out to short
Joe DiMaggio Doubled in Game 6 of 1951 World Series
Lou Gehrig Hitless in final game
Walter Johnson Flied out to Babe Ruth as pinch-hitter
Mickey Mantle Hitless in final game
Christy Mathewson Allowed 15 hits, eight runs but beat Three-Finger Brown
Willie Mays Hit into force out in Game 3 of 1973 World Series
Stan Musial Singled home a run
Kirby Puckett Hit by a pitch
Pete Rose Popped out against Goose Gossage
Nolan Ryan Allowed grand slam, tore ligament in elbow
Babe Ruth Grounded out to first
Ted Williams Home run off Jack Fisher

Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category is: He Couldn't Have Had Bigger Shoes To Fill If He Was A Clown.

Q: Who is the only man to pinch-hit for Ted Williams?

A: Carroll Hardy grounded into a double play Sept. 20, 1960 when he replaced Williams after Ted fouled a ball off his foot and had to leave the game. A week later, Hardy also was inserted for Williams after Ted took left field following his last home run. "They booed me all the way out and cheered him all the way," Hardy recalled once. Hardy also pinch-hit for Roger Maris and Carl Yastrzesmki.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com