Originally created 07/12/00

Should baseball change All-Star format?



For nearly seven decades, baseball's All-Star Game has remained virtually the same: the best of the American League vs. the best of the National League.

Oh, there have been minor changes. Player selection has shifted from the fans to managers and back in its 67-year history. Two games were played per season in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But for the most part, Tuesday's 71st version of the All-Star Game had the same format as the first in 1933 that featured Babe Ruth, Carl Hubbell and Jimmie Foxx.

Is it time for a change?

After all, between free agency and interleague play, there aren't many matchups reserved for the "Midsummer Classic" anymore.

Randy Johnson vs. Barry Bonds? Both are in the NL West now. And Pedro Martinez faces Chipper Jones every year in interleague play.

What if baseball borrowed an idea from the NHL and had its All-Stars divided into squads from the United States and the rest of the world?

"I love it in hockey because it makes for a lot of competitiveness," said Angels outfielder Darin Erstad, who is playing in his first All-Star Game. "Playing for the honor of your country.

"I went to the NHL All-Star Game in Vancouver in '98, and it was fun for me. It was a hard-played game, and a lot of times you don't see that in All-Star games."

The new format has worked well for the NHL, drawing more interest since the change to North American vs. World teams was made two years ago.

"We're very happy," said Glenn Adamo, the NHL's group vice president of broadcasting. "We think it's a positive sign for us. We look at this with a smile on our faces, and we hope to keep the momentum going."

The baseball All-Star Game has lost its luster recently. Even last season's game, with the presence of Ted Williams at home in Boston's Fenway Park and the Red Sox's Pedro Martinez striking out five, had the second-lowest TV ratings in 30 years. The lowest rating in the game's history came in 1997, the year interleague play debuted.

The NHL's format isn't as foreign to baseball as it sounds. The last two seasons, a minor-league Futures game has been played during All-Star weekend, pitting America's young stars against a team composed of the World's best.

Under this new plan, fans would still choose the starters by voting for their favorite American and international stars. For Tuesday's game, there were 17 players on the AL and NL rosters born outside the 50 states.

"To be voted in by the fans is an honor, one of the few things that you can't change," Puerto Rican native Bernie Williams said. "You'd be able to have the top players at every position from the world."

An International team would have a strong Caribbean flavor, with Puerto Rican catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Carlos Delgado, second baseman Roberto Alomar and Williams. Add to that Martinez and outfielders Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez from the Dominican Republic, and a potentially potent team starts to take shape.

In fact, Rodriguez, this year's top vote-getter, along with Alomar, Williams, Sosa and Ramirez have already been voted in as starters. Guerrero filled in as a starter and Delgado was named as a reserve.

"Look at the talent that Latin players bring to the game. They're unbelievable," Erstad said. "Then there are the pitchers from Japan and the Dominican who are fantastic. It would be a great game."

The World team could add players such as Panamanian reliever Mariano Rivera, South Korean starter Chan Ho Park, Japanese reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki and Canadian outfielder Larry Walker.

The American squad also would feature many of the same All-Stars playing in Tuesday's game. Catcher Mike Piazza, first baseman Mark McGwire, shortstop Alex Rodriguez, third baseman Jones, and outfielders Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. surely would be voted in by the fans, just as they have been this year. Randy Johnson could be called upon to face the International lineup.

Baseball traditionalists would hate it, obviously.

"It shouldn't happen, as baseball is a sport of tradition," three-time All-Star Derek Jeter said. "It's been the AL vs. the NL for a long time and should stay that way."

Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who managed this year's World team at the Futures game Sunday, also didn't like idea.

For the minor league game, "you have to come up with something interesting, but in the major leagues, I like the way it is, National League vs. American League.

Baseball has no plans to change the format, and for now, fans will just have to wait till the Olympics in Sydney to see American players take on the World. Most of those Americans are expected to be retired major leaguers.

"It's a good idea, but it's not going to happen," Sosa, who made the All-Star team for the fourth time, said of the international format. "Maybe in the future it would be nice, but a lot of people like the All-Star Game the way it is right now."