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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

All-Star Story Is Far From Over

May 11, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

The All-Star makeover, the thought that pride and intensity can be restored to the midsummer exhibition game by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league, is about as cosmetic as anything Estee Lauder produces. Give management and players credit for continuing the peace process, but the real story is in what happens next.

In agreeing to the two-year All-Star experiment and yielding to the lobbying of Fox executives David Hill and Ed Goren -- "They were insistent that this will be a demonstrable plus," union leader Don Fehr said -- the union won concessions beyond the fact that players, managers and coaches will have a vote in the selection of All-Star reserves, possibly reducing the number of snubbed candidates.

Management has agreed to continue discussions with the union on two fronts:

* Expansion of the playoffs into a seeded, tournament-type format, with six teams, rather than four, from each league qualifying.

* Transforming the All-Star game into a U.S.-International format, differing from a World Cup tournament that has been and will continue to be discussed.

Angel Manager Mike Scioscia, who will pilot the American League All-Star team, said he likes the idea of a World Cup tournament -- possibly even during a break in spring training -- but would like to keep the All-Star game as it is because he prefers "the distinction between the leagues and the rivalry it produces."

Of course, much of that distinction has been removed through interleague play, player movement, realignment and the elimination of league presidents and separate umpiring staffs.

No matter how the All-Star game evolves, the union's concept of expanded playoffs, with home-field advantage in the Series legitimately determined by best record, is almost certain to win the approval of management, since it translates to added revenue -- possibly implemented in 2005.

Although most of the game's revolutionary changes -- interleague play, three divisions and wild-card berths -- have been management ideas, Commissioner Bud Selig cited a renewed focus on marketing and said if the game was going to grow, it had to come from a partnership with the union. That oft-stated concept has been given only lip service in the past, but there seems to be an attempt now at meaningful dialogue.

Selig said his new and high-profile marketing committee, which includes union lawyer Gene Orza, will give "careful consideration to every suggestion" no matter where it emanates.

Beane Bagged

The respect in which General Manager Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics is held throughout the industry seems to have been tarnished a bit by a new book -- "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael M. Lewis -- detailing Beane's success as a small-market GM with his personal insights on trades.

The press-box buzz among scouts and other GMs is that Beane has painted a portrayal favorable to himself and unfavorable to the executives he has dealt with, or as a National League GM said, "Billy comes off as pretty arrogant."

Among the GMs portrayed in an unfavorable manner, Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox was outspoken about Beane.

"I've heard of those [kinds of] people. It's called ego-itis," Williams told the Chicago Sun-Times. "When the ego weighs more than the brain and swells, it affects your powers of memory and recall. If I would have written that book, I would have started out by giving thanks to my directors of scouts and that staff for drafting people like Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada."

Beane and Williams have since talked by phone, and again in person during the recent A's-White Sox series in Oakland. Beane has refused to discuss the nature of their conversations, saying only that he has tremendous respect for Williams.

Williams said he had a job to do and would discuss trades with Beane if necessary, but added that he would be "wary of the conversations."

Expo-Ditiously?

One immediate problem with that $339-million stadium-financing plan proposed by Washington in an attempt to win baseball's bidding for the Montreal Expos: A key element calls for $4.5 million a year from the taxing of visiting players' salaries. Many states permit such a tax, but federal law prohibits it in Washington, and the union -- as reported by the Washington Post -- plans to mount a legal challenge.

That, of course, is only one of many impediments facing baseball and the Expos.

With the clock ticking, and Selig now conceding, "There is no timetable," there is also no evidence that baseball will have a decision on the Expos' future home by the All-Star break, as initially planned, and no evidence the Expos will be able to avoid another year in the ghostly (ghastly?) conditions of Olympic Stadium.

Anyone for a full year in San Juan?

Who's on First?

Well, if Mike Piazza returns to the Dodgers as a first baseman, he will have been there before. He played one game at first base for the Dodgers in 1993, and it had been that long since he had taken grounders at the position.

"I don't remember two years ago, never mind 10 years ago," he told New York reporters.

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