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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

Selig Felt That His Hands Were Tied

July 11, 2002|Ross Newhan

The 73rd All-Star game was history. The histrionics were only starting.

All of it--Miller Park field littered with debris, the chant of "Let them play!", the second-guessing that came with the morning newspapers and the talk shows that he knew he shouldn't listen to but did anyway--weighed heavily on Bud Selig Wednesday.

He remained secure in feeling that he had made the only feasible decision in calling the game after the 11th inning with the score tied, 7-7, and insistent that the situation would never happen again, but that didn't ease the discomfort of what he said was a sleepless night, his "longest and loneliest."

Think what you will of the commissioner, but he is a man who cares about his sport, who brought it back to his hometown. It is easy to believe, as he'd said, that he was in shock during the 20-minute drive to his house, one he has made a thousand times, "but never like last night."

"My wife is having hip replacement surgery next week and has a sinus infection on top of that and she left the game before it went into extra innings," Selig said by phone Wednesday. "I said, 'Don't worry, Honey, somebody will jack one out and I'll be home soon.' Little did I know that all hell would break loose."

Nobody jacked one out, the managers used all 60 players, and there was Selig taking abuse from those hometown fans, another in a series of dark moments for the commissioner and his sport.

Appropriately, the Milwaukee weather came up overcast Wednesday.

Selig was asked if he didn't feel he was living under a black cloud?

"I don't feel that way at all," he said. "I've had too many good things happen in my life."

This, of course, was far from a good thing, a painful and heartbreaking lesson, said the commissioner, but one easily rectified, he insisted.

Maybe rosters will be expanded.

More important, he said, maybe an emphasis will be put on managers to leave starting players in the game longer, have pitchers work a bit farther.

"The game is managed differently now," Selig said of the stress on using every player. "Maybe it goes back to the incident with Mike Mussina in 1993."

Mussina was with the Baltimore Orioles then, and the All-Star game was being played in Camden Yards. Toronto Manager Cito Gaston was in charge of the American League team and had already angered Oriole fans by selecting four of his Blue Jays to go with the three who had been voted in.

When Gaston failed to use Mussina, leaving him warming up in the bullpen as the American League wrapped up a 9-3 win, he was serenaded with an obscene chant and wouldn't even risk leaving the dugout to congratulate his team as it left the field.

Certainly, no manager wants to catch that kind of abuse, and the memory of Bill Freehan catching all 15 innings in the 1967 game in Anaheim, or Stan Musial playing all 12 innings of the 1955 game, which he eventually won with a home run, are freeze frames from a distant All-Star era. Now, as happened Tuesday night, fans see more of Rob Fick than Barry Bonds.

Reached by colleague Jason Reid in San Francisco on Wednesday, Giant General Manager Brian Sabean said it was unfair to blame Selig for the latest controversy because he didn't manage the teams and, for the most part, the managers weren't to be blamed, either, because they felt obligated to use every player as a type of "defensive mechanism" for the heat they take in selecting the teams.

"So they kind of get out of that hot box by being willing to play everybody," Sabean said.

Former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda disagrees with that thinking. He told colleague Rob Fernas that you can't exhaust your staff early, that you have to manage the game almost as if it's a regular-season game.

"You have to protect yourself because you can be caught with your pants down," Lasorda said. "When I had meetings with my [four] All-Star teams, I told them, 'Hey, I'm not here to put everybody in the game. I'm here to win, and we might have to win without all of you guys playing. That's the way it's going to be.' "

It may be only an exhibition game, but it's hard to erase the memory of Pete Rose leveling Ray Fosse at the plate, and if it should be honor enough just to be selected, if it shouldn't be necessary to use every player, some of the change in managing tactics also stems from a change in pitching deployment.

Now, there are almost as many relievers selected as starters.

There were only three starters on Bob Brenly's 10-man National League staff Tuesday night, and only five on Joe Torre's nine-man AL staff.

Relievers, though, are basically conditioned to work only an inning at a time, meaning the manager can work through an All-Star staff in a hurry.

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