Highs and lows of the 2002 All-Star game

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

Sports Columnist

Well, we’re a week removed from the game-turned-fiasco that was the 2002 All-Star Game. Major League baseball is back to normal (as normal as it can be with a steroid scandal and possible impending strike hanging over their collective heads) and has resumed its regular-season schedule.

I’m sure Major League Baseball, in particular Commissioner Bud Selig, would just as soon we forget all about last week. So, leave it to me to remind you of it. But there were a few lasting impressions that were evoked by last week’s All-Star Game, not all bad, that I felt were worth pointing out.

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The tribute to the 30 most memorable moments in the history of baseball was, I thought, very well done. At a time when off-the-field shenanigans seem to often dominate the sports headlines, it was refreshing to be reminded of those wonderful times when everything seemed right with baseball. You had to wonder how much the young millionaires watching from the dugouts really appreciated the men in the black-and-white reels who paved the way for them to have what they have today.

As part of the tribute, held at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, four former Milwaukee All-Stars participated in throwing out the game’s first pitch. Warren Spahn and Hank Aaron of the former Milwaukee Braves, and

Paul Molitor and Robin Yount of the Brewers returned home, along with help from Milwaukee broadcaster and funny man Bob Uecker, who served as catcher for one of the ceremonial pitches. A day earlier, legendary Brewers relief pitcher Rollie Fingers thrilled the crowd at the Legends Game by belting a homer over the moved-in fence.

All of these baseball greats spent nearly their entire careers performing their magic for the same team, in stark contrast to the stars of today, most of whom seem to keep their suitcases packed and beside the door, waiting for a bigger contract elsewhere as soon as their existing contract runs out, or something doesn’t stroke their egos just right. We aren’t likely to see many more scenes like the one that surrounded Cal Ripken’s retirement after playing his entire career for the Baltimore fans.

We all owe Jorge Posada a debt of gratitude for a simple reminder of what the game should be all about.

Each team’s starters waited in the dugout for their names to called before running onto the field to join their teammates. But when Posada’s name was introduced, to the delight of the crowd what appeared to be a shrunk-down version of Posada ran onto the field. It was Posada’s son, complete with black-out under his eyes and an oversized uniform. He couldn’t have been over three years old, and once he hit the grass, he had to be chased down, because all he saw was a huge playground and a chance to run.

When all is said and done, when contract negotiations are over, when controversies die down about steroids and lively ballsbaseball is still a game. Every now and then we’re reminded of it when circumstances turn the big guys into kids for a few minutes.

Yogi Berra leaps into the arms of Don Larsen after he pitches a perfect game in the World Series; Ozzie Smith does his customary backflip as he takes to the field; Joe Carter skips and hops and smiles all the way around the bases after his World Championship-winning homer; the Yankees dive and roll over the top of a pile of their teammates after winning yet another ring.

As for the game itself, Twins’ outfielder Torii Hunter cemented his spot in All-Star highlight reels for years to come. Displaying why he is widely considered among the best defensive outfielders in the game, Hunter vaulted elbow-high above the eight-foot centerfield fence to snare a Barry Bonds drive that should have been a first-inning home run.

Not to be outdone, Bonds stepped to the plate again in the third and this time, as if to say, "go get THAT one", pounded it off the upper-deck facade 385 feet away.

And let’s hear it for the late additions, huh? Boston’s Johnny Damon, the last man on the AL roster via the "30th man Vote", started a four-run rally in the seventh when he glanced a line drive off the pitcher, stole second base, moved to third on a flyout, and scored on a groundout to second base. Then Omar Visquel, the last of five shortstops on the AL roster, tripled into the rightfield corner to tie the game for good at 7-7.

And speaking of the infamous tie, I know the managers, players, and broad casters all came out in support of the decision to end the game after 11 innings when both teams "ran out of players", but it seems to me there were a lot of other options that could have been exercised.

The most obvious is to let the pitchers who were already in the game pitch one more inning. If the game still were tied after that, bring one of the previous pitchers back in. I know it’s against the rules, but last time I checked, so is ending a game in a tie. None of the pitchers on either team had thrown more than 31 pitches or two innings, and besides that, there were plenty of days off for the All-Star break for them to get the necessary rest before pitching again.

Another recourse would have been to allow a position player to take the mound. It happens every now and then in the regular season, and it would have made a great All-Star story.

As it happened, it looks like yet another case against Bud Selig. I’m afraid the photo of him with his shoulders shrugged and his hands in the air, not knowing what to do as he conferred with Joe Torre and Bob Brenly, will be the image that defines Selig’s administration for years to come. I’m sure the term "contraction" already haunts him, as the Expos and Twins, two of the primary teams that were supposedly on the verge of extinction, have been playing exceptionally well.

Bud would do well to think a little longer before speaking or acting in the future. It would probably make his job a lot easier.