ATLANTA -- Even before Mark McGwire's knee flared up, even before Barry Bonds' thumb chipped, and even before Greg Maddux forgot to watch out for incoming balls during batting practice, rendering all three spectators for Tuesday's All-Star game, the intrigue of this annual exhibition has receded like Joe Torre's hairline.
Let's face it, baseball's Midsummer Classic is nothing but a large pile of fluff, a three-day photo op where it's appropriate for David Wells to throw plastic baseballs at the FanFest's radar gun and for Bernie Williams to join Marc Anthony on stage and comfortably strum a guitar.
The All-Star break is just that, a respite from the season's six-month grind and a chance for fans and players to celebrate and reflect on why baseball still considers itself the national pastime.
The game, though, means little anymore, except to serve as a convenient excuse to gather overwhelming talent on one field.
Gone are the days when Pete Rose would crash into Ray Fosse to try to win in extra innings, a play that ended Fosse's career. Today's players don't emulate Joe Morgan's statements about how the National League used the All-Star game to show its dominance.
With interleague play here to stay, and the constant league-jumping among players, whatever novelty the All-Star game once purported no longer exists.
It's time for this game to re-invent itself, to break with tradition and become more than just a drop-in. Rather than pitting leagues against each other, make this game a celebration of baseball's diversity and its global manifest destiny.
If baseball can open its season in Japan, travel to Cuba for exhibition games and send the Padres and Mets to Mexico, then surely it can have an All-Star game with teams comprised of American-born players vs. the world, stealing an idea the National Hockey League began in 1998.
There were 16 foreign-born players involved in Tuesday's game at Turner Field, six of whom were starters and roughly one-fourth of all involved. In All-Star history dating to 1933, 115 foreign-born players have participated, including representatives from Australia, Scotland and France.
This year's crop represents Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Curacao and Canada. Maybe it's time to give the foreign-born players their own All-Star team, give them Felipe Alou as the manager, and we'll see who plays a better game.
Imagine the foreign-born roster. Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and Jorge Posada (Puerto Rico) catch. First basemen would be Delgado, Andres Galarraga (Venezuela) and Rafael Palmeiro (Cuba). At second, there's Roberto Alomar (Puerto Rice), Jose Vidro (Puerto Rico) and Florida Marlins' Luis Castillo (Dominican Republic).
Take Edgar Renteria (Colombia), Oakland's Miguel Tejada (Dominican Republic) and Cleveland's Omar Vizquel (Puerto Rico) at short, and add Tony Batista (Dominican Republic) and Edgardo Alfonzo (Venezuela) at third, and the infield appears formidable.
Move to the outfield, and an argument may be that non-Americans rule. Chose three starters from Dominicans Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Mondesi, from Puerto Rican Bernie Williams, from Venezuelan Magglio Ordonez, or Andruw Jones from Curacao.
Foreign-born pitching might be the weak link, but hey, Americans need an advantage somewhere, right? Still, the staff wouldn't be Milwaukee Brewer-esque.
How about Dominicans Pedro Martinez, Pedro Astacio, Armando Benitez and Antonio Alfonseca, Canadian Ryan Dempster, Koreans Chan Ho Park and Byun-Hung Kim, with Japan's Kazuhiro Sasaki and Panama's Mariano Rivera to close?
It would certainly make the night all the more appealing.
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
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