16 July 2008

All Star Game Almost Another Tie, Needs More Incentive

Are they listening?

Hello? Are the All-Star managers listening at all?

"This One Counts."

Or so we're told, and yet the managers continue to utilize their respective rosters as though their main concern is "to avoid stepping on anybody's toes", rather than "to win the damn game". Last night's contest, and epic, tension-filled, 15-inning record-breaker, featured 11 NL pitchers and 12 AL pitchers. Every pitcher on each team was used.

Boston skipper Terry Francona was supposedly checking with J.D. Drew to see if he could pitch in a pinch, though I'm sure nobody expected the second coming of Christy Mathewson. Rockies/NL All-Star manager Clint Hurdle was said to have asked David Wright the same question. I wonder if he regretted not choosing Cardinals' outfielder Rick Ankiel for his roster, who at least has some experience as a pitcher in the majors, disastrous though it may have been.

With the embarrassing 2002 "Kissing your Sister" All-Star Game not all that far off in the rear view mirror, Major League Baseball drives on as though nothing is wrong. The managers were reminded that they're supposed ot be trying to win this thing, which seems to me like reminding an archer that his goal is to hit the target, not just use up all his arrows so he doesn't have to carry that heavy quiver all the way back to the storage shed.

Nevertheless, to sweeten the pot, they decided that awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game would be enough. Clearly, it's not. Neither league's manager has been the same in consecutive years since before this rule was instituted in 2002, so it's tough to argue that this incentive has any meaning at all. Clint Hurdle's team is clearly not going to repeat, as they currently sit near the bottom of the sad-sack NL West division. What does he care who gets home field advantage? He'll be watching the World Series from his couch, just like you and me.

Most of the players in the game will not be in the World Series. The Cubs had a record nine All Stars this year, yet they did not encompass even one third of the NL squad, so even if the team with the best record in the league gets to the World Series (which doesn't happen as often as you would hope or expect), well, their representatives can only do so much to assure that they get the advantage come October. If they get there.

Since they started the All Star game in 1933, there have been 11 contests that went into extra innings, out of 78 games played. That's more than 14%, which is about a one-in-seven chance. Given those odds, you'd think the managers would prepare better, leave themselves a little wiggle room. Nope. Instead, they use their starting pitcher for two innings, maybe just one, and rarely use anyone else for more than an inning or two, and then only when they start to sweat about the game going into extra innings.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that they should play this like a regular game, trying to get six or seven innings out of their starters. That wouldn't be fair to anyone, especially the pitcher, who's not used to facing an entire lineup of world-class players. Three innings is probably enough. But then what's wrong with letting the next guy pitch three innings? Then you can mix and match for the last two, assuming a regular 9-inning contest, and still have three or four pitchers left over in case of a tie after nine.

There has never been a time when this game was managed like a real game, no matter what anyone tells you. Right from the beginning, it was managed like an exhibition. In fact, there have only been two games in All Star history in which one of the starters went more than three innings. One of them was Hall-of-Famer Lefty Gomez, who went six (!) in 1935, a record that still stands.

The other was Spud Chandler, who went four innings in 1942 against a WWII-depleted NL squad. That team featured 2B Jimmy Brown (.256 with 1 homer), Aarky Vaughan (.277 with 2 homers), and SS Eddie Miller, who hit .243 that year with an adjusted OPS of 81, i.e. almost 20% below average. Pete Reiser batted third, with a .310 average, 10 homers and 64 RBIs that year. The backups weren't all that great, either: Billy Herman, Mickey Owen, Pee Wee Reese, Terry Moore, Willard Marshall, and someone named Danny Lithwhiler. Not exactly threatening.

Fun fact: The other five innings of that game were all pitched by Detroit's Al Denton, who went 7-13 on the year. Another fun fact: The Cardinals' Mort Cooper started (and lost) the game, throwing to his brother and St. Louis teammate, Walker. That's the only combo of All-Star brothers who didn't play the same position, and they did it twice (1943, too).

Anyway, back to my point: There is no reason to think that the managers should try to get 6 or 7 innings from an All-Star starting pitcher. It's never happened before, and it shouldn't now. But three or four is hardly unreasonable. As the teams went into extra innings last night, Terry Francona had to look past

  • Joe Saunders (averaging 6.7 IP/start with a 3.20 ERA),
  • Roy Halladay (7.6 IP/GS, 2.71 ERA),
  • Ervin Santana (6.8 IP/GS, 3.34 ERA) and
  • Justin Duchscherer (6.8, 1.82)

Why? Because he had already used them. For one inning each.

Halladay, who had three days of rest and who averages 107 pitches per start, threw nine pitches. Nine.

"Thanks, Roy. Nice effort. No, that's OK, we don't need to win. Go take a shower. Well, even if you didn't get sweaty."

After six years of this home-field-advantage-in-the-World-Series silliness, it's obvious that something has to be done. My proposal is as follows:

Go back to what motivates people: Money.

Back in the day, the players used to really try hard to win this thing for two reasons. One of them was that they had a sense of league pride, something that has essentially disappeared with the advent of free agency. But the other was money. Players got a bonus for winning the All Star game, and since their salaries were not so exorbitant, that bonus actually meant something. Let's get back to that.

Major League Baseball probably already makes a killing at the All Star Game, but they could be making even more. StubHub was selling bleacher tickets for over $1000 apiece yesterday, so imagine what box seats would be worth! Players get bonuses for being selected to the All-Star Game, which are written into their contracts. Let's do away with those, or at least limit them, so that the real money can be doled out to those who actually win the game, not just those who play.

Maybe a $500,000 bonus for each player on the winning team? That's $15 million, but hey, that's pocket change for a $4 billion industry like MLB. If they sell tickets at an average of $500 apiece, that's $27.5 million right there, just for filling Yankee Stadium! And that doesn't include concessions, television rights, advertising, Home-Run Derby revenues, or any of the other things that MLB does to squeeze every last nickel out of the American Consumer.

Better yet, since it's really the manager who's the problem, not the players, give a $5 million bonus to the manager of the team that wins. Maybe an extra mil to each of his coaches. That's an incentive, since most managers don't make anywhere near that much money. Sure, it's kind of mercenary, but heck, these guys are professionals. They're not doing it for free now. Let's motivate them where we know they'll feel it: In the wallet.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"give a $5 million bonus to the manager of the team that wins."

That's not going to work though. Because if suddenly the manager gets a 5 million dollar bonus, he puts Scott Kazmir in there for five innings, and to (BLEEEP) with how many pitches he threw on Sunday...

We need to just accept that the All-Star game is a game for fun, both for the fans and the players, not give any importance to it, and if the game is still tied after 12 innings, it's a tie. The end. Despite all the cries of doom and gloom, the world didn't end after the game in 02.

I personally enjoyed the All-Star game much more when Curt Schilling told Alex Rodriguez that he was going to throw him "nothing but fastballs!" and then struck out A-Rod on three straight 96mph smokers.

Why are we all so concerned about who wins? Is it really that important?