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THE NEW YORK TIMES
World Event Could Solve All-Star Blahs
Baseball World Cup: U.S., Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Everyone Else
By MURRAY CHASS
July 9, 2002
Baseball's All-Star Game remains the best and most legitimate All-Star game of all of the major professional star-studded exhibition games, but officials are concerned that the game has lost luster. It needs something, they feel, to reinvigorate it so that it can regain its hold over fans. Television ratings, you know.
Having fans vote for each team's 30th player online, as baseball did this year, won't quite propel fan interest to ecstatic heights. Some other solution is required.
How about this one? Here, at no expense to Major League Baseball, which we understand is hurting financially despite its $3.6 billion revenue, is a proposal for a new format for the annual midseason hiatus. Call it, for lack of a better name, a mini-World Cup of Baseball.
Instead of having National and American League All-Star teams, as has been the practice for 70 years, divide the best players by birthplace and create four teams. The United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic would each have one team, and the fourth would be made up of players from elsewhere around the world Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, Curaçao, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Cuba.
Instead of a three-day break, make it four days. Play two games on the Tuesday of the break and a game between the winners of those games on Wednesday. Make Thursday the off day instead of Wednesday and resume the season on Friday instead of on Thursday. The winner would get the Bud Selig Bowl.
The games could be played at two or three sites in close proximity to one another. One game of the Tuesday doubleheader, for example, could be played at Fenway Park in Boston, the other at Shea Stadium. The so-called championship game could then be played Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. Or one Tuesday game could be played in Cincinnati, the other in Pittsburgh and the Wednesday game in Cleveland.
Baseball and the players association have talked about creating a real World Cup, with teams coming from all over the world, including Cuba and Japan, not just Major League Baseball. The problem is that it has been all talk. They figure to have a new revenue-sharing plan in place before establishing the baseball version of soccer's World Cup.
"Other things have a higher priority," acknowledged one person who has been involved in baseball's labor deliberations. One of the issues to be decided about baseball's real world series is timing. Some people think it should take place before spring training, others say during spring training and still others think after the World Series would be best.
But while baseball people in this country and officials from other countries are bogged down in politics and delaying a real world series indefinitely, Major League Baseball and the players association could give the world a taste of what such a tournament would be like.
"It's interesting," Tom Glavine of Atlanta, the longtime National League player representative, said yesterday. "I'd have to think about it, but it's interesting." If such an All-Star tournament were staged, based on this season's performances, Glavine could be a member of the United States pitching staff with Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe. They have 49 victories among them.
John Smoltz of Atlanta, with 31 saves, could be the United States closer. Eric Gagne of Los Angeles, the major league leader with 32 saves, could be the closer for the multicountry team; he's from Canada. But that team would be rich in closers because it could also have the Yankees' Mariano Rivera (Panama), Seattle's Kazuhiro Sasaki (Japan), Boston's Ugueth Urbina (Venezuela) and Arizona's Byung Hyun Kim (South Korea).
Vladimir Guerrero, Montreal's right fielder, is in the starting lineup for tonight's traditional All-Star game as the National League center fielder, between Barry Bonds in left and Sammy Sosa in right. In the suggested format, he could be the center fielder for the Dominican Republic between Manny Ramirez and Sosa.
"If they worked that out, it would be fine," Guerrero said through a translator. "I'd be excited about it."
The Dominican starting pitchers could be Pedro Martínez of Boston, Odalis Perez of Los Angeles, Bartolo Colón of Montreal and Pedro Astacio of the Mets, who have 39 victories among them.
"If they wanted to do it, for me it's fine," said Perez, who is establishing himself as a top starter after his trade from Atlanta last off-season. "It would be exciting because the competition is great. I have no idea who would win. I'd like to know."
The multicountry team could have an interesting outfield Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki (Japan) in right, Atlanta's Andruw Jones (Curaçao) in center and Colorado's Larry Walker (Canada) in left.
But Jones doesn't like the idea.
"It would be too many games," he said. "A lot of people look forward to the All-Star Game to get their rest. So to play two games after playing the whole first half, it's kind of difficult. But if they make it a one-game series and just have the Latin Americans against the American team, it would be a good matchup."
Jose Vidro of Montreal, who could share second base on the Puerto Rican team with Roberto Alomar, also rejected the suggested four-team format.
"I don't like the idea," he said. "It would take the whole atmosphere away. It's been like that since, what, 1920-something? I don't think it's the time to change anything. Everything is perfect. The way they do things right now is the way it should stay."
But if tonight's game, the latest in the long-running series that actually began in 1933, draws less interest than officials would like, they may seek ways to inject new excitement into the event. They are welcome to consider this one.