Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Tuesday Off Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Manny Ramirez just might be the most, make that only, sensible man in the Boston Red Sox organization. He's as bored by the All-Star Game as is everyone else but Bud Selig.

The fans voted Ramirez a starting outfielder for the American League in next Tuesday's Midsummer Irrelevance. Ramirez promptly announced through Sox manager Terry Francona that a sore knee would keep him from participating. Since Ramirez is in one of his cones of public silence, he's rather pointedly refused further comment.

No comment was necessary. First, Ramirez's knee is sore. Manny's reaching the age where chronic ailments are part of the game. The knee didn't keep Ramirez from hitting a homer about 1100 feet last night in Tampa Bay, but it's a real issue that will only get worse with time. The All-Star Game is not the American League playoffs. Any star who wishes to rest a minor hurt instead of flying cross-country for two at-bats is well within his rights under the baseball code of etiquette.

Ramirez would be within his rights even if he made up his excuse, as he may have done after a previous All-Star selection. His job is to help the Red Sox win games, and if three mental health days are what Manny needs to keep on doing just that, then three mental health days are what he should take. The All-Star Game is a gigantic waste of time, and Ramirez's presence wouldn't change that fact. Babe Ruth rising from the grave to play right field might not.

Consider the matter from Manny's perspective. The All-Star break is the only legitimate time off players get in the regular season. Baseball isn't physically arduous, but the mental drain of the endless routine is reak. You try making 5 a.m. hotel check-ins a weekly part of your schedule and see how it feels.

Instead of two days away from the game in the bosom of his family, All-Star Ramirez would take a Sunday night flight to Pittsburgh, then awaken early for a mandatory press conference he would not enjoy. Tuesday would be a game day, followed by a Wednesday flight back to wherever the Red Sox play on Thursday. Some fun, huh? The All-Star game may be a big deal for first-timers like Jonathan Papelbon. You'll excuse Ramirez for finding it all a trifle old.

I'll excuse Manny, at least. On this issue, Ramirez and I are soulmates. My personal interest in the All-Star game, never high, has faded to zero. All the usual "who shoulda got in" controversies left me cold, because I'm not sure who's on the two teams and who isn't anyway. Nice work, Bud, putting the official selection show on 7 p.m. Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, a time when a majority of 300 million Americans are outdoors.

Once upon a time, before free agency and interleague play, players brought some energy to the All-Star Game. Back in the '50s and '60s, when the National League's black and Latin stars were acutely aware of the American League's passive approach to integration, they brought one hell of a lot of energy, so they always won. Now, the game is a jumbled series of cameo appearances by 50 or more ballplayers, most of whom enter and leave before Joe Buck and Tim McCarver finish eulogizing them. As drama, the game has as much structure and pace as the latest edition of the yellow pages.

Nothing reveals the essential bankruptcy of the All-Star Game more than its two most celebrated attractions, the Home Run Derby and the notion that it "counts" because the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. The competition between the best no longer sells the game. Ersatz batting practice and false stakes were added. What a confession of artistic failure.

The Derby contains an irony Major League Baseball has yet to perceive. Performance-enhancing drug use remains the game's largest public relations problem, one symbolized by the idea of artficially enhanced home run totals. A home run derby, by definition, is a contest glorifying articifically created homers-the longer the better. Is that really what the game wishes for its marketing showplace?

As for the game counting, it doesn't-not to the majority of All-Stars, anyhow. Players aren't fools, and no Marlin, Indian, or Pirate is under the impression home field in the Series will mean anything to him come October. For that matter, since the All-Star winner was first awarded home field advantage in the Series, it hasn't meant anything to anyone. In 2003, the Yanks had the odd game, but the Marlins won anyway. In 2004 and 5, the Red and White Sox triumphed in four-game sweeps, making the home field edge a completely inoperative concept.

Boston's enormous false sports controversy industry will doubtless go into mandatory overtime mode blasting Ramirez's decision. Calling stars names is what we do here. Ramirez, quirky, enigmatic, and too good to ever lose, is a perfect foil for lazy bear-baiters. The calumny won't bother the slugger a whit. As noted, he's a sensible chap.

Enjoy your brief vacation, Manny. If you feel restless Tuesday night, feel free to drive out to my place. We'll find something better on TV than the All-Star game. I think it's the night for "World According to Jim" reruns.


At 7:30 PM, Anonymous parispatois said...

allez les bleus!
allez les bleus!
allez les bleus!


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