Thursday, January 10, 2008

All Star Games and the Post Season

Today the Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals completed a minor-league deal for Josh Phelps, late of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Terms were not disclosed, although the agreement did include an invitation to spring training for Phelps. He's only 29.

His best seasons were 2002-2003 with Toronto, when as a part time player (never more than 119 games), he hit about .270 with 17 HR and 62 RBI (on average). He was traded during the 2004 season to Cleveland, and has bounced around a lot since then (Tampa Bay, Detroit, Yankees, and finally Pittsburgh). He spent all of 2006 in the Detroit farm system.

The Cardinals suffer from a dearth of right-handed power, so if this kid can make the team as a bench player/pinch hitter that's a plus in my opinion.

Other than that, it's been quiet. So in searching for things to write about, I thought I'd dust off my thoughts on the All-Star game as it currently stands.

When the 2002 All-Star Game completed 9 innings tied at 7, Commissioner Bud Selig had two choices: continue playing the game to conclusion (as baseball rules require), or stop the game. Complicating matters, each manager had managed their roster to ensure all players had appeared in the game, as had become the custom; neither one had a pitcher left in reserve, meaning the one throwing the ninth inning would be back on the mound for the 10th. and 11th. and so on...

Bud chose the latter of the two options, and baseball quickly became a laughingstock. They couldn't even put on an All-Star game right.

To stop the laughter, and prevent this situation from happening again, MLB instituted the 'this time it counts' slogan and declared the league winning the All-Star game would have home field advantage during the World Series.

Fast forward to 2007. The AL has dominated the whole game, and leads 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, but with the bases empty and 2 out a rally starts. Suddenly the NL's scored two runs, Putz and K-Rod have walked the bases loaded, and a single wins the game. NL manager Tony LaRussa has Albert Pujols available to hit. He sticks with Aaron Rowland, later citing concerns that AP needed to be available if the game went extra innings. Rowland flies out; game ends.

Although ripe for questioning (and it was heavily second-guessed at the time), I'm not going to dissect Tony's decision process for that at-bat. The real issue here is that AB had larger than it should significance because of the rules in place governing the post-season. Instead of just trying to win the game, Rowland had the weight of an entire league (not to mention 10 years of futility in these games) riding on it. All because of a poor decision made by Selig in 2002.

That wasn't fair to Rowland and it isn't a fair way to determine who hosts 4 of the potential 7 games played in the World Series. So let's fix it.

Here's how:
1. The team with the best overall record will have home field advantage for the World Series.
2. Teams making the playoffs as the wild card are never allowed to have home field advantage in the World Series, unless both teams in the Series are wild cards; then we revert to rule #1.

Now, this would marginalize the All-Star game again, right? And potentially set us up for another 2002 debacle. Possibly. So change the mentality of the All-Star game and bend the rules a little.

Here's how to avoid the 2002 debacle:
1. Manage the game like it's a regular season game. In 1955 Musial pinch hit for Del Ennis in the 4th inning - and played the rest of the game, winning it with a HR in the 12th. Current rules require the starters to play 2 innings and get an AB. If the starter is a liability (like Bonds), substitute for him as soon as you're allowed. If the starter is the best player in the league at that position (like Ichiro) leave him in there.

2. Designate one pitcher as the long man upfront. He and his team should know so they can plan for it. He then becomes the guy to work a lot of innings if the game goes into extras.

3. Remember, this is still an exhibition - so allow one player who has been taken out of the game to be eligible to return for each 2 extra innings played. Since rule #2 took care of pitching, most likely this would be a hitter who can then be used as situations demand it.

4. Players and managers mayl need incentive to take it seriously now that 'this time it counts' is removed. So set aside some of the post-season money for the All-Stars. The winning side would get paid, and slightly more than players on the losing team. It won't be much, but hell, nothing motivates like cold hard cash, right?

Leagues could even dedicate the game to a favorite charity or cause and donate the team's winnings to that charity or cause. Talk about a PR bonanza.

What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments. And keep the questions for DePodesta coming...


Mike said...

The All Star game deciding home field advantage is almost more ridiculous than the DH. What first comes to mind is the '04 World Series. The Cards had the best record in baseball while the Sox were a wild card team, yet Boston got home field. Although I believe we would have lost anyway, maybe the rule robbed us of at least one win. I'm all for a change.

Cardinal70 said...

I've argued this since before it was implemented.

It's crazy and stupid the way things are now. And all because Bud Selig got booed in his own ballpark.

Let the All-Star Game be for fun and fans. It doesn't need anything more to be great.