Keep it simple, stupid

Today’s games should count more than yesterday’s, if you ask me. Oh, there are no major-league games today?

My point exactly.

Driving into work this morning, a caller and the host made a point on WFAN about the idiocy known as “This One Counts.” (I won’t drop this until Major League Baseball does.) No matter how much weight Bud Selig and his minions try to add to the exhibition, the players are never going to treat it like a true game, unless maybe you award the players on each team a cash bonus, paid on the spot, and other incentives — say, $1,000 handed to them at first base after a single, or $10,000 in crisp hundreds collected while standing on home plate after a home run. Oh, and don’t keep secrets like a new Corvette from the players. You’ll have more guys trying to be MVPs.

The point made on the radio was that Jim Edmonds, one of the game’s most aggressive players, didn’t come close to Miguel Tejada in an attempt to break up a double play. Edmonds — a guy who dives in the outfield at least once every two games, who only takes off a crisp, clean uniform on days when he never left the shade of the dugout — didn’t slide hard into second base. And Edmonds plays for the Cardinals, the NL team most likely to benefit from having home-field advantage in the World Series! No one’s ever going to pull a Pete Rose again and run over the catcher in an All-Star Game, for fear of injury to himself and the stigma that would come with ending Jason Varitek’s season. Ever.

Managers may run the game a little differently, instituting some signs, attempting steals, starting a hit-and-run, pitching around a player. (The day we see an intentional walk in an All-Star Game — particularly if it’s the only at bat a guy like Miguel Cabrera might get — will be, on a smaller scale, as horrendous as the Tie of 2002.) But you’re never going to get anything more than Torii Hunter leaping to rob Barry Bonds of a home run, because he was there in plenty of time and it wasn’t as reckless as crashing into a wall or diving headfirst for a sinking liner in the gap.

There are those who argue that if you’re going to have “This One Counts,” then you have to have every team represented, but I think it’s even more of a reason to abolish that representation rule. If the All-Star Game is for league supremacy and is meant to determine which side gets home-field advantage in the World Series, then each league should have its best players available to help it win. The NL deserved to have Cliff Floyd’s relative youth and strong arm over Moises Alou’s creaky knees. It deserved to have Marcus Giles available for four or five innings instead of Jeff Kent for one at bat. Keeping the fan voting is more important to me than home-field advantage, and how can you justify the fans’ collective whim with making the game matter? Carlos Beltran and Edmonds didn’t deserve to start over Miguel Cabrera and Andruw Jones, but the fans wanted to see them.

Clearly, the game doesn’t count to guys like Gary Sheffield, who in the past only went to represent the Dodgers if they paid for his family to join him, or to Pedro Martinez. (As a Mets fan, I’m more happy that Pedro rested for the games that really count — Sunday against the Braves — than I would have been seeing him throw an inning against Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Teixeira. Which he would’ve gotten through unscathed, which is more than I can say for John Smoltz.) Besides, I already saw him face Vlad in the lesser idiocy of interleague play.

I still love the All-Star Game. I like seeing all the different uniforms on the same field together. I like watching players from different teams chatting in the dugout. I love seeing Jimmy Rollins pretend to care enough to ask Luis Castillo where the Marlins start the second half of the season (“Are you at home?”) only to have Castillo shake his head, smile, and point to the “Phillies” on Rollins’ chest. “Oh, you’re at our place?!” Rollins realized. But you’re never going to get the players to play harder than they do now, and to use “This Time It Counts” as a failsafe to ensure there’s never another tie is as ridiculous as the car salesman’s suit Selig wore during his ESPN interview during the home run derby. Just tell the managers they have to save some pitchers in case the game is tied, and if one team runs out of hurlers while the score is still even, then that league loses the game. They won’t run out then.

If David Stern told NBA players that the winning side of the league’s midseason exhibition got home-court advantage in the finals, they still wouldn’t play defense — they’d just try to win 150-140. If the NHL … oh, who cares? It’s just that I don’t see a difference in how the game is played. There’s a miniscule difference in how it’s managed, but nobody goes to a baseball game to see the managers’ strategies played out. They want to see pitchers pitch and hitters hit.

That’s what counts.

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