Solution to all-star no-shows: no game

There are plenty of things in life that just go together, like surf and sun, meat and potatoes, high and mighty, fishing and lies, kiss and tell. It's impossible to imagine one without the other.

And so it is disconcerting to reflect on Major League Baseball's All-Star Game of 72 hours ago. It was an All-Star Game but without most of the stars. It was salt without pepper, Mutt without Jeff.

Actually, it was a Some-Stars Game, depending on how you feel about the star power of the likes of Jeff Kent, Troy Glaus, Mike Sweeney, or Edgardo Alfonzo.

What happened is that seven of the players the fans voted to the game as starters came down with assorted ailments that they said prevented them from playing: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, and Cal Ripken Jr. Star pitchers extraordinaire Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux also declared themselves out.

It's easy to trash the players for their decisions not to play when the fans want to see them. After all, baseball has made itself hard for fans to love with all manner of questionable behavior over recent years. Among the problems: way too high ticket and food prices, owner arrogance, and player boorishness.

So for this many players to opt out is troublesome. After all, who did you prefer to see play at third for the American League, Ripken or Travis Fryman? Who did you prefer to see among the outfielders for the National League, Griffey and Bonds or Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Edmonds?

OK, the vote is in, and it's nearly unanimous.

Griffey competed in the home-run-hitting contest but not the game. Hmmm.

Pedro had something wrong that nobody understood. Hmmm.

Time out for fairness. What the players are focused on is playing well in the regular season. Those 162 games are infinitely more important than one All-Star Game. Indeed, the actual game has little importance.

Let's assume that the players are telling the truth. The fact they are looking at the big picture, as opposed to the one night in Atlanta picture, is realistic, even laudable.

Not many fans remember, for example, that in the 1950 All-Star Game, Boston's Ted Williams crashed into the scoreboard at Chicago's Comiskey Park while catching a line drive off the bat of Ralph Kiner. Williams was hurt and ended up playing in only 89 games that year. That one play in that one meaningless game clearly

wasn't worth it.

The National Football League has the same problem with its Pro Bowl game. The players want to be selected for it, because of the honor, but for the most part they don't really want to play in it. Same thing with baseball.

So the problem is clear: Players don't want to play, so they don't, which makes the fans mad who voted for them to play, which in turn harms national television interest, which makes television execs grumpy. Ultimately, players who may be big stars tomorrow - Montreal's Guerrero is a prime candidate - but who aren't today go out and play halfheartedly, which results in a desultory contest.

It's an everybody-loses situation.

This year is a perfect case in point. In a game drowning in lethargy, the American League won 6-3. The seven starters who failed to answer the command to play ball had a total of 66 All-Star Game appearances. And so the steak couldn't sizzle.

Three possible solutions:

*Go ahead and select the team as always. Nothing changes, except:

Don't play the game.

This makes abundant sense. It would maintain almost all the good aspects of the event, including the fan involvement and the debates over those not chosen. Nothing would change for those players who have large incentives in their contracts if they are chosen for the game. They'd still receive them.

The contest has been played since 1933 (the first All-Star homer fittingly was smacked by Babe Ruth), and it has been a nice run. But just because something has been a good idea in the past doesn't make it a permanently good idea.

Or:

*Pay each starting player who elects to participate $1 million. No play, no pay. It's not much money to these guys, but it'll buy trinkets - and improve their attendance.

Or:

*Drop the whole idea. After all, we fans know who the stars are. We don't need a game to tell us.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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