Proposal for Fair and
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Not too long ago (in paleontological terms), when Butch from the Cape still walked the earth and offered legendary rants as a caller to sports talk radio, I made my first and so far only call one day to a radio show known as the "A-Team." At that time, the "A-Team" paired Eddie Andelman and Dale Arnold, two veteran radio talk show hosts. I am especially partial to Eddie Andelman because of the commitment he has made to raise money for the Joey Fund, a foundation started by Joey O'Donnell's dad in an effort to speed medical breakthroughs.
Anyway, on the day that I was listening, Eddie and Dale were talking about the various All-Star games that professional sports present and the distinctions to be drawn among them. You've got to be in your car driving alone for at least an hour or more to really begin to care about these kinds of questions and call in. But people do. And I did.
My suggestion was straightforward enough. The two baseball leagues (American and National) that define professional baseball's major (not minor) leagues and (theoretically) compete with each other (in a "distinction without a difference" style along the lines of the two major political parties - Democrat and Republican) should present a baseball All-Star contest that would be more meaningful than a mere exhibition. There are already many baseball exhibitions: The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, hosts an annual "exhibition game" between an American and a National League team; and each spring (late winter for us) professional baseball teams play "exhibition games" in the Grapefruit League in sunny climes like Florida and Arizona. Baseball players get warmed up to then play 162 regular season games (followed by postseason games) in less sunny climes like Dusty Baker's Detroit, Michigan, or our own Boston, Massachusetts.
As a kid, my memories recall that the All-Star games were far more intense than the sunflower spitting contests that the major leagues have staged recently. In 1970, the collision between hell-bent-to-score Pete Rose and catcher Joe Fosse at the plate defined a level of competitiveness that hasn't been matched in the three decades since. Now players have seemed far more anxious and competitive about how they will do in the home run hitting contest the day before than the All-Star game itself. And the tie score fiasco of the 2002 All-Star Game suggests that even in a meaningless game of baseball, notions of winning, losing, and accountability have all but evaporated.
So, more than a year and a half prior to the 2002 debacle, my suggestion aired over the radio waves that baseball's All-Star game would be far more interesting if it had meaning. And it would have meaning if the winning league won the right to the home field advantage in the best-of-seven series known as the World Series (a contest open only to America's major leagues).
A friend at Cape Cod Community College, Rick Nastri, apparently also was driving a long distance alone that afternoon and heard me make the suggestion. He thought it was a good idea, as did callers who immediately followed me on the radio show itself. So, on February 14, 2001, Valentine's Day ironically, I wrote a letter and faxed my suggestion to the then president of the San Diego Padres, Larry Lucchino, and to the commissioner of baseball, Allan H. (Bud) Selig. I ate dinner and went to sleep.
The next day's mail brought a letter with the logo of major league baseball and a return address of the office of the commissioner. In that instance, my rush of excitement was just the same as I recalled as a kid opening a Topps bubble gum wrapper in order to get to the baseball cards. In his letter, Commissioner Selig thanked me for the fax. He also mentioned that the idea had come to him from someone in baseball's New York office who had already prepared a detailed plan. This was February, 2001, more than one All-Star game before the notorious tie game debacle of 2002.
Between then and now, many events have interceded. And in whatever way that things merge and lead to outcomes, major league baseball has decided that the winning league in this year's All-Star game will be awarded the home field advantage later this fall (early winter here) when the World Series will be played.
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. In fact, in the courteous speak of sports talk radio, Dale Arnold has railed with his new partner, Bob Neumeier, that this format is a "dumb" idea: The players don't like it. It holds out too much potential for unintended consequences, injury, competitive deviousness, and so on. As Dale succinctly summarizes, "It's dumb."
But the point of all this is simple. The reason I will watch the game with a smile is that it shows how baseball became and may still yet be America's favorite (meaningless) pastime. It's a game that encourages fans to have opinions and to draw comparisons. Both in its play and in its strategy, instinct and statistics intertwine. Casey Stengel, meet Bill James. For young and old, the game lends itself easily to flights of fancy.
Some players are big, others are small. Some are thickly muscled, others thin. Some are as slow as the changeover to daylight savings. Others are quick as whippets. All are measured for success in ways that rival weather forecasters. Players are All-Stars and earn huge paychecks if they get a hit on but three of ten at bats. Managers are both smart and dumb. They are easy to second guess. Owners themselves are often caricatures. Just say the word "Steinbrenner." It would be easy to believe that a correct translation would be "good drinker."
The beauty of baseball is that on a summer night, sitting on the porch, a fan like me can either pay close attention to each pitch and batted ball or doze a bit instead, assured that the roar of the home team will sound an alert suggesting either that a rally has begun or one has been extinguished. Good luck, All-Stars, have a little fun. It would be great to see that you enjoy and care about playing the game as much as we do watching it.