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You call these players All-Stars?

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Bill Plaschke
July 9, 2010
— Two years ago, on a May day so full of promise, baseball commissioner Bud Selig reverently announced that the 2010 All-Star game would be played at Angel Stadium. He fibbed.

I’ll be a rally monkey’s uncle before I’ll believe that disparate group of 68 players coming to town next week is completely worthy of an All-Star game.


Two years ago, Selig filled us with visions of Pete Rose crashing into Ray Fosse.


Instead, we could be getting Omar Infante crashing into John Buck.


Two years ago, Selig gave us the image of Reggie Jackson going off the light tower, Ichiro going inside the park, and Cal Ripken Jr. going deep into history.


Instead, we’re getting Michael Bourn going for ... what exactly?


A game once famous for Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden’s six consecutive strikeouts is now populated with Evan Meek and Matt Thornton.


If you don’t know where those two guys play—heck, if you don’t even know what position they play—don’t feel bad. They were among three All-Stars whose names I announced the other day to a friend who is a longtime baseball fan. He whiffed on all three.


If there are people with baseball photos on their office walls unable to identify three players in the baseball All-Star game, then baseball is picking the wrong team, and, yeah, they’ve really mucked it up this time.


Thanks to a convoluted, ever-changing selection process that tries to make everyone happy, nobody should be happy with what may be the worst collection of All-Stars in the history of this once-proud game.


The National League’s leading power hitter, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, didn’t make the team until winning the Internet voting on Thursday.


No member of the San Diego pitching staff made the team until Padres reliever Heath Bell was named as an injury replacement, even though the Padres have the league’s top staff.


The top strikeout pitcher in the American League, the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver, just barely made it as a replacement player but still may be ineligible for the game if he pitches, as scheduled, on Sunday.


And don’t even get me started about the arrogant snub of Stephen Strasburg.


Instead, we get ...


Infante of the Atlanta Braves who doesn’t even start for his own team.


Bourn of the Houston Astros is an All-Star who doesn’t hit for average (.260) or power (one homer) or run production (20 RBIs).


Meek of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Thornton of the Chicago White Sox are nice pitchers, but they are setup relievers in a game where the star power is in starters and closers.


“We often talk about the importance of a sports property owning a day on the calendar,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “Baseball owns the midsummer classic, yet I think they often un-deliver on the opportunity. They are happy with what they have, where, instead, a little creativity would go a long way to engage the casual fan the rest of the summer.”


Baseball is happy to continue the tradition of picking at least one player from each team.


Forcing a guy from a last-place team with no good candidates to play in this game diminishes the credibility of everyone else.


Baseball is also happy to continue the practice of having the manager pick some of the players.


Did you hear how the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel explained taking Ryan Howard over Votto, who is having a better season? “He’s my guy,” Manuel said.


Wonderful. Baseball markets itself to the world on the basis of a back slap and a wink.


Manuel was even more impressive when he explained why he didn’t pick the must-see phenom Strasburg, saying, “What’s he got, like five starts or something?”


At the time, Strasburg had six starts. Baseball is putting its showcase game in the hands of folks who aren’t even paying attention, and that has to change.


Allowing the fans to pick the starters is a wonderful idea. But get rid of the player voting, which is all based on reputation. Get rid of the manager selection, which is all based on fraternalism. And get rid of the one-player-per-team rule, which is as outdated as stirrups.


I don’t care if home-field advantage in the World Series is at stake. The perception of baseball’s entertainment value is also at stake, which is more important considering it has fallen behind football and basketball as a national attraction.


League officials should pick the reserves and plan out the game like they plan out any other big marketing event. Baseball’s All-Star game is a midsummer classic, not a vacation frat party, and it needs to again start acting like it.


Bill Plaschke is sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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