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All-Star game gains importance

Posted: Friday, May 02, 2003

NEW YORK Baseball players agreed to a two-year experiment Thursday to give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game.

It's always been fun,'' said Cleveland designated hitter Ellis Burks, a two-time All-Star. But now, especially with guys from contending teams, it's really going to be fun. They're going to have a lot more to play for.''

Owners approved the proposal Jan. 17, and players had been discussing it since before agreeing to it on a trial basis. Despite the approval, some players are against the new idea.

I disagree with it, completely and totally,'' said Los Angeles pitcher Kevin Brown a five-time All-Star. I think it just takes away from the whole idea of what the All-Star game is about, which is letting the fans vote and letting it be an exhibition game. Now they're trying to make it into something that it never has been.''

Since the start of the World Series in 1903, home-field advantage has alternated between the American and National leagues. Commissioner Bud Selig proposed the change after last year's All-Star game in Milwaukee ended in a 7-7, 11-inning tie when both leagues ran out of pitchers.

Maybe at some point somebody will come up with a better solution for this. But until that happens, we can try it out,'' White Sox player rep Kelly Wunsch said. I'm a gamer as far as giving it a shot and seeing what happens.''

The team hosting Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series has won 15 of the last 17 titles. The team hosting Game 7 in the last eight Series that went a full seven games has won every time, including Anaheim last year against San Francisco.

I don't think it matters,'' Giants slugger Barry Bonds said. The best team is going to win anyway.''

Fox, baseball's national network broadcaster, has lobbied players to support the plan, meeting with members of the union during spring training.

Like network ratings in general, the All-Star game rating has steadily declined. From a peak of 28.5 in 1970, it dropped below 20 for the first time in 1987. The game drew a 15.7 rating in 1994, then dropped to 13.9 the following year after a strike wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Last year's rating was an all-time low 9.5.

Baseball's All-Star game is by far and away the highest rated of all the All-Star games. It's the granddaddy of All-Star games,'' Fox Sports president Ed Goren said. We're just trying to make it better and bring back the years when people played to win the game. Now, it means something more than just individually.''

The intensity of the All-Star game has lessened in recent years, with increased player movement reducing the allegiance players have to their leagues. Also, managers have become more focused on getting every player into the game than winning it.

It all depends on what they want: Do they want a showcase? Then do what they've been doing,'' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. If they want intensity, then have it back the way it was played before, where you see Pete Rose knocking somebody into the stands, and the president of each league coming in and giving pep talks before the game. To me, that's what it's all about pride.''

Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who will manage this year's NL All-Star team, thinks the new proposal will increase the intensity of the game.

You might as well win it for the NL,'' he said. It's some incentive. But the incentive is to win. If I'm there I want to win. That would really help if it's us.''

The sides also agreed to increase the roster size from 30 to 32, and gave players, managers and coaches a say on who makes the team.

Fans will select the starting position players eight in the National League and nine in the AL this season because the game will have a designated hitter. A separate ballot of players, managers and coaches conducted during the final week of fan balloting will determine nine additional position players in the AL and eight in the NL, as well as eight pitchers in each league.

That would be cool. I like that idea,'' Los Angeles' Brian Jordan said. A lot of times, guys are injured, but just because they're popular, they make the All-Star team and a guy who really deserves it never makes it. It's unfortunate, but the players know who's good and who deserves it, so that's good.''

If that vote has the same winner as the fans, the second-place finisher will make the team. The All-Star manager, in consultation with the commissioner's office, will select the rest of the team, which must include 12 pitchers. All teams will still be guaranteed at least one All-Star.

I assume guys have always played hard,'' said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who will manage his first All-Star game. But I think this will add some more pride to playing in the game. This will definitely put a little more into the game.''

Also, no pitcher will be required to pitch more than three innings and all starting position players must get at least one at-bat.



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