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Forecast Isn't Bright for the All-Star Game

Baseball: As best players gather in Milwaukee for annual contest, a few clouds hang over the national pastime.

July 07, 2002|BEN WALKER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MILWAUKEE — Whether the leaky roof at Miller Park is open or closed, the forecast for this Bud Bowl is the same: cloudy, real cloudy.

Because as baseball gathers in commissioner Bud Selig's backyard for Tuesday night's All-Star game, all is not well.

Will fans be buzzing about seeing Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in the same NL outfield after patching up their spring-training feud?

Forget it.

Instead, listen to Sosa and Bonds--and the whole sport, for that matter--caught up in the swirl over steroids.

It didn't help that television ads promoting the game portrayed Bonds, Sosa and other all-stars as puffed-up, crazed cartoon figures.

Will Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi attract a lot attention at Monday's home-run derby?

Nope.

Monday's big event comes nearby in suburban Chicago, where the executive board of the players' union meets and may set a strike deadline.

"This should be a time the fans could come out and see the best in the world," said American League All-Star manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees. "Certainly threatening the fans with what could be happening down the road is bad enough."

Will St. Louis pitcher Matt Morris enjoy the fun and festivities?

Hardly.

Not with the tragic death of teammate Darryl Kile and the death of longtime Cardinal broadcaster Jack Buck so fresh. There will be tributes to both on game night.

The death of Ted Williams on the eve of All-Star weekend is certain to cast a somber tone on the celebration. A few years ago, his emotional return to Fenway Park was one of the greatest moments in the game's recent history.

The commissioner did catch a break by avoiding a potentially embarrassing boycott. Boston pitcher John Burkett didn't make the AL team and couldn't follow through on his threat to skip it.

But clearly, this All-Star game will be overshadowed by off-the-field issues.

There's more, too.

With contraction a possibility, will Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro be the last Montreal players ever in an All-Star game?

And then there's no telling whether Mike Piazza will feel compelled to repeat his "I'm not gay" remarks.

"I'm looking forward to the All-Star game," Selig said. "People are very excited in Milwaukee, as they are every place. And hopefully, it will be everything that we think it is.

"We have some problems we have to deal with. But the All-Star game is still one of our premier events with a lot surrounding it," he said.

At least, he hopes so.

The former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig continues to live in the city.

Last year, he proudly threw out the ceremonial first ball when Miller Park opened.

Earlier this season, All-Star Shawn Green of the Dodgers hit four home runs in a game at Milwaukee.

Yet some fans coming to Miller Park this week will surely remember something else--three workers were killed in July 1999 when a crane collapsed during the stadium's construction.

Usually, the All-Star game is a pure showcase.

At Safeco Field in Seattle last year, Mariner star Ichiro Suzuki was the early focus of excitement. Then Cal Ripken provided the highlight with a home run in his final All-Star appearance.

During the Williams homecoming in 1999, Pedro Martinez added to the thrill by striking out NL most valuable players Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell and Sosa, along with home-run champ Mark McGwire.

In 1998, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and a lot of players got their first look at Coors Field. Their curiosity was satisfied as the AL won 13-8 in the highest-scoring All-Star game in history.

This year?

Plenty of first-timers, 25 to be exact. Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter is on that list, and he'll start.

"I hope I don't pass out there in front of all those people when they call my name out to be one of those All-Stars," Hunter said.

Six players from the World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks, including aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, will be at the game.

A half-dozen players from the Yankees, with Alfonso Soriano, Jorge Posada and Giambi in the starting lineup. They'll try to help the AL win for the sixth straight time and match its best streak ever.

The NL leads the series, 40-31-1.

One of those NL victories came in 1975, the last time the All-Star game was played in Milwaukee. Bill Madlock hit a tiebreaking single in the ninth inning off Goose Gossage in a 6-3 victory at old County Stadium.

While Carl Yastrzemski hit his only All-Star home run on that day, the game was notable for one other reason: it marked Hank Aaron's 24th and final All-Star appearance.

Having begun his Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Braves, he represented the Brewers when he lined out as a pinch-hitter.

"I was just a shell of what I was," Hammerin' Hank recalled. "But I still considered it an honor to have played my last [All-Star] game in Milwaukee."

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