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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

Shortstops Rule the Field

July 01, 2002|Ross Newhan

All-Star inflections and reflections while watching the Angels knock some glitter off Odalis Perez:

* This has been billed as a golden age for shortstops, and American League Manager Joe Torre will attempt to squeeze the entire age into the July 9 game at Milwaukee.

Torre selected four shortstops--Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel--as understudies to starter Alex Rodriguez, leaving Alfonso Soriano as the only second baseman.

Why not?

All five shortstops are deserving, and there is no clear-cut second base candidate behind Soriano, although Torre could have selected Seattle's Bret Boone in tribute to his historic season in 2001.

Besides, any of the shortstops can play an inning or two at second. In fact, Vizquel, who is the only Cleveland representative and might not have received that honor if Bartolo Colon hadn't been traded by the Indians out of the American League on Thursday, has already volunteered to switch.

"I would play second if they wanted," he said. "I'd play right field. I don't care. To me, the biggest honor is just to go to the All-Star Game."

* The Angels played to three sellouts during the interleague series with the Dodgers, setting an Edison Field attendance record for a three-game series, but are any of the Anaheim partisans even aware they can still get Darin Erstad on the AL team?

In a new process, Erstad is one of five players selected by Torre--the others are Eric Chavez, Jim Thome, Johnny Damon and Miguel Ordonez--to be voted on by fans for the final roster berth.

Voting can only be done on the internet--at mlb.com and espn.com--and only until 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Asked if he wanted to make a final campaign speech, Erstad frowned and dismissed his still possible selection.

"I think the chance of it happening are negative 12," he said. "I've never worried about that stuff anyway and I'm not going to lose any sleep now.

"When [Manager Mike Scioscia] told me about it, I kind of felt like the last player selected in the NFL draft."

Maybe, but Erstad played before a lot of potential voters on the weekend--"the atmosphere was electric," he said--and did nothing to damage his candidacy.

"We won two, that's more important," he said.

* Garret Anderson celebrated his 30th birthday by being named the only Angel representative, a deserved honor. Anderson plays on birthdays, holidays, you name it. Only Rafael Palmeiro, among American Leaguers, has played in more games in the last 5 1/2 seasons.

* In the Dept. of What Might Have Been, the Dodgers, perhaps, have become conditioned to seeing Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez selected, but that pain was exacerbated Sunday by Torre's selection of Paul Konerko as a first base backup.

The ongoing emergence of one-time phenom Konerko as one of baseball's best hitters--he leads the majors with 70 runs batted in and is batting .340 with 20 home runs--is a painful reminder that the Independence Day trade of 1998 in which then general manager Tom Lasorda sent Konerko and Dennys Reyes to Cincinnati for Jeff Shaw may not yet challenge the Martinez and Piazza trades as the club's worst, but is high in the top 10.

On Lasorda's behalf, the contending Dodgers were desperate for a closer at the time, Konerko had not responded to the opportunity when Eric Karros opened the '98 season on the disabled list, and there were doubts as to what other position he could play and if he could ever fulfill the Dodgers' high expectations amid the pressure in L.A. The Reds were also quick to trade him, sending him to the Chicago White Sox at the end of the 1998 season for Mike Cameron.

The current campaign has become the biggest and best of four consecutive banner seasons in Chicago, or as Scioscia, who was working in the Dodger system during Konerko's formative and often frustrating time with that organization, put it: "Say what you will about what happened in L.A., he's definitely having a monster year."

* Perez wasn't at his best in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Angels, but his and teammate Eric Gagne's All-Star selections represented a remarkable turnaround from the uncertain status of their careers--as recently as March.

Perez applauded National League Manager Bob Brenly for making a "good decision" in his case, while Gagne proved that you can take the boy out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of the boy.

Asked if his selection might provide a lift for the fans of his hometown, Gagne said, "to me, that's the most important thing. Baseball in Montreal is not doing well."

The Expos, of course, are doing better than anyone might have expected, but his point was understood. If a Canadian pitcher named Claude Raymond, a 1966 All-Star, helped motivate the young Gagne, maybe Gagne can inspire young players.

"The kids there need it, especially if the Expos leave," he said.

* The All-Star tenure of Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez ended after 10 appearances and nine consecutive starts, while New York Met second baseman Roberto Alomar had made 12 consecutive appearances.

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