Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Camden Yards the site of fundamental All-Star change

Losing to the Rays in Game 7 in last year's American League Championship Series cost Terry Francona a chance to go to the World Series for the third time in five years. It also, however, saved him a big-time headache: Managing the American League All-Star team.

One reporter asked Francona today if he's talked to Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon to plug some of his players -- Tim Wakefield, probably -- for an All-Star spot. Francona said he had not done so, in large part because Maddon has so little to do with selecting the team.

"They really don't have decisions to make," he said. "They have decisions to make when guys get hurt, things like that."

That actually comes back to the All-Star Game held right here in Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1993. Toronto manager Cito Gaston held back Orioles ace Mike Mussina in case of extra innings and never did bring him into the game, drawing the ire of the hometown crowd that started booing when Blue Jays closer Duane Ward pitched the ninth in place of Mussina.

Ever since 1993, managers have felt enormous pressure to get as many players as possible into the game. That, of course, led to issues with extra innings and ties and complaints that the game wasn't played competitively. The infamous tie in 2003 was the most glaring example, but last year's All-Star Game almost ended the same way. Francona was prepared to pitch J.D. Drew in the top of the 16th inning because he'd used all his pitchers and didn't dare send Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir back out for a second inning on one day's rest.

"You're trying to compete," Francona said. "You're also trying to get guys in the game. It's not fair. I'm telling you: It's not fair to the manager. ...

"We told the team before the game: I was going to try to play everybody I could and win. Our guys were very cooperative, and we managed to do it. I was very thankful because it wasn't easy, and it took a lot of the fun out of it. ....

"I understand that they want this game to be (competitive), and they've accomplished that. But I don't think you can have microphones (in the dugout). I don't think you can do both. I just don't think you can do both."

The odd nature of the game's rules cost Mussina again a year ago, his final year in the major leagues, even though the game was being played in Yankee Stadium. The manager now is so limited in the decisions he's able to make -- thanks to the fan vote, the player vote and the requirement that every team be represented -- that he has almost no control over his roster.

"Mussina, in my opinion, was a special case," Francona said. "He was a Yankee and he's been a Yankee and he had a great year going. We had no chance to put him on the team. I had no chance. I didn't want to have to explain it, but because of the rules in place, I had no way to do it. I thought he would have been a great selection."

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