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BASEBALL : It's NOT the Seventh Game of World Series

July 11, 1990|ROSS NEWHAN

CHICAGO — In the pregame meeting with his National League team Tuesday night, Roger Craig said he would manage this 61st All-Star renewal as if it was the seventh game of the World Series.

His San Francisco Giants having been pushed into the Bay by the Oakland Athletics after only four games of last fall's World Series, Craig obviously has been eager to experience the feeling of a seventh game.

No excuse.

An All-Star game isn't the time or place to overmanage because it isn't a game, period.

It's a spectacle, a showcase played for the benefit of the fans, who are allowed to select the starting lineups, the players they want to see display their talents.

Craig removed some of the spirit of the occasion when he removed the bat from the hands of Wade Boggs with a runner at second and two outs in the third inning, and from Ken Griffey Jr. with runners at second and third and two outs in the sixth.

If this wasn't damper enough, a wind blowing in at 16 m.p.h. and a series of showers turned Wrigley Field into the unfriendly confines, a haven for pitchers much as West Coast stadiums are when these games are started amid the twilight shadows.

Some might say that the offensive ineptitude of this dullard was to be expected. Chalk it up, they might say, to a season in which there have already been six no-hitters, and a year in which the World Cup has given new meaning to a 1-0 score.

The truth is that much of the magic of this event--and to a degree the magic of the World Series--has been diluted by baseball's insidious sellout to the TV ratings.

The four-year, $1.06-billion contract with CBS, which took effect this year, ensures that (a) the clubs can continue to turn fringe players into millionaires, and (b) baseball's biggest events will be played when commercial revenues are greatest.

Does it matter that the hitters can't see in the twilight?

Or that the next generation of fans is often asleep before the final out?

Or that the weather variables seem greatest at night?

The point is that people always seemed to find a way to watch or listen when the All-Star and World Series games were played during the heart of the afternoon, when the playing conditions were most favorable.

America paused. The pace slowed. It was special and often memorable.

Now it's all marketing and megabucks, which is not to say that the playoffs and World Series don't continue to create a degree of electricity out of their sheer significance, but how much greater the glamour and performance in mid-day?

Amid the inclement conditions, Tuesday night's All-Star game dissolved into another zero. The scoreboard showed nine zeros for the National League and eight for the American, which won, 2-0.

Aside from Craig's strategy, what is likely to be remembered is that the National got only two hits and that rain delayed the start 15 minutes and the seventh inning by 68.

There is no guarantee, of course, against afternoon rain, but the delays are not as apt to send fans to the exits or the clock past midnight.

It was 11:55 p.m. here when Dennis Eckersley mercifully secured the final out of this game. Many in the crowd of 39,071 had long left. Only on Rush Street was the town still toddlin'.

At wet and windy Wrigley, Craig attempted to explain his intentional walks to Boggs and Griffey by saying the only important thing was winning.

Perhaps, but in this event it is best done by letting the players decide it, the best against the best, Pete Rose crashing into Ray Fosse, Carl Hubbell striking out a succession of the game's greatest hitters.

Craig could argue that his strategy worked, and that he wasn't exactly depriving the fans of a showcase moment because he forced pitchers Ramon Martinez and Jeff Brantley to retire the menacing Jose Canseco and Cecil Fielder, but the intentional walks still seemed sadly and strangely out of place and were appropriately booed by a crowd that had been and would again be supportive of Craig's team.

Boggs shook his head later and said he didn't know what Craig was thinking about, because Canseco can "hit it out of any park, wind or not."

"Naturally, I was disappointed," Boggs said. "You always want to hit, but I guess I have to accept it as part of the game, even this game."

Said Jim Lefebvre, Griffey's manager with the Seattle Mariners and the American League's third base coach: "I told Junior that he shouldn't be disappointed, that when a manager walks you to get at the home run king of baseball, that's showing you a lot of respect. Was I surprised? Sure. Fielder is no walk in the park. It was a gutsy move. Roger obviously wanted to win."

Craig said he is trying to win every time he puts on a uniform and that he walked Boggs and Griffey because he felt they represented more ways to drive in a run in a scoreless game than Canseco and Fielder.

The 20-year-old Griffey responded to it by flipping his bat toward the on-deck circle. A childish act by the third-youngest player to appear in an All-Star game?

Call it a case of justifiable frustration. Griffey was undoubtedly feeling as deprived as the 2.1 million fans who had voted him into the starting lineup.

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