Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greatest Authority on the MLB All-Star Game Overlooked

The entire week leading up to the MLB All-Star Game, sports writers offered their quick-fixes to the event as they saw it. (The most coherent I found was this multifaceted attempt by ESPN's Jayson Stark.) Less than 12 hours after the marathon ended in 15 innings, I had already watched as Baseball Tonight's John Kruk and Eric Young put on their best angry faces and blasted Major League Baseball. The game is too meaningful, they argued. Because it determines home field advantage in the World Series, managers are forced to do everything they can to win. This year, that included Terry Francona's use of Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir (who threw 104 pitches last Sunday) and Clint Hurdle's insertion of Arizona's Brandon Webb (118 pitches). Their extra work, Kruk argued, is cause for great concern for their ballclubs moving forward.

It would be slightly ridiculous and conceited (though I normally operate quite comfortably in those arenas) if I were to offer a personal fix for the All-Star Game. Instead, I say now with an authority greater than that of Bud Selig himself, while still avoiding all conceit, that I know where the All-Star Game needs to begin to even attempt the complicated fix: me.

I can say this without a doubt because, unlike Bud Selig, I am a fan and nothing but a fan. I am under no contractual obligations to the league or to the media, and yet I am an authority nonetheless. And here's a secret: so are you. The league should start with you just as they start with me. The biggest celebration of baseball's past, present, and future needs to get back to those people who appreciate and cherish all three. After all, on the simplest level, All-Star games in every sport are showcases. Whether the teams are 12-year-old players or players with 12-year-olds, gathering all the stars onto two rosters is special for fans to see.
At Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, modern-day Greek gods with the speed and power of ten men each readied for battle. Overstated? Perhaps, but only to nonfans, for this is what the event is supposed to be about! I got chills watching The Boss being driven around the greatest venue in sports with the greatest players past and present on the field. I was giddy at the thought of an actual lineup where Manny bats behind A-Rod. I applauded from my couch along with the fans as the Sandman entered and surprised no one but thrilled everyone by being great. The best players on the planet in the greatest stadium's final season -- sports can't possibly be scripted, but every true fan knows that the Big Guy upstairs drew up a masterpiece long ago for the night of July 15, 2008.

As the morning of July 16 arrived, however, the script began to fray. It was no longer a showcase to the fans, but a disservice to the Rays and Diamondbacks, a labor to the players, and a feeding frenzy for media sharks circling Bud Selig and baseball. And the worst part of it all was that, as a major authority on the All-Star Game, I could do nothing. Regardless of outcome, the worst-case scenarios had won out, and instead of being a celebration, the game became a flawed ploy to make money that's detrimental to all involved. Despite the beauty of the script's pages, all I could focus on were the coffee stains.

I offer no plan to fix the event. I refuse to argue for or against the game's determining home field advantage in the World Series. Although I'm tempted to throw out ideas, I know they will fall on deaf ears. I am no authority on fixing baseball games, on selling tickets, or on promoting multi-billion dollar businesses. I am an authority on fanship, however, and I'm the best there is. You can say the very same. So please, baseball, bring back the celebration.
As sportscaster Ernie Harwell once said of baseball, "It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion." When its revered and sacred figures assemble together once a summer, I think I speak for all fans when I say, we believe in baseball.
Baseball, it seems, needs to believe in us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reilly's Farewell to Yankee Stadium

Rick Reilly has long been one of my favorite sports columnists. He recently left SI for ESPN, which is further proof that the company is taking over all of sports media, one talent at a time. Reilly is good friends with John A. Walsh, senior vice president and executive editor of both ESPN, Inc. and, which I've heard is what contributed to his switch. (I was fortunate enough during my last college semester to talk to Mr. Walsh over the phone. Although the "Godfather of SportsCenter" has been around since the beginning, he's very sharp on the modern sports stuff.)

Anyways, Reilly has been a member of ESPN for a little while now, which hopefully won't detract from his writing style. (ESPN's writers tend to fall into the footsteps of Bill Simmons, you see, and repeat the same cliches until their creativity has been converted into a formula.) I'm reserving my reflections on my own Stadium experiences until the end of the season when it officially meets its fate, but Reilly's latest article from ESPN The Magazine is a great look at Yankee Stadium's history. It's summarized quickly and lined with humor, the way only Reilly can write. Enjoy.