Baseball's All-Star Game needs a few tweaks to make it better

Chicago Cubs' Jason Heyward, right, scores on a double by Anthony Rizzo as Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Welington Castillo looks to the field during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, June 3, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

Credit: Nam Y. Huh

Chicago Cubs' Jason Heyward, right, scores on a double by Anthony Rizzo as Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Welington Castillo looks to the field during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, June 3, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

for the starting lineup in early voting for next month's All-Star Game in San Diego, while right fielder Jason Heyward ranked fourth among National League outfielders.

Entering the weekend, the Cubs also had three of the top six NL starting pitchers in ERA in Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester.

Plenty can happen between now and July 3, the day the teams are announced, but the Cubs could have as many as eight players on the NL squad, matching their total from the 2008 game at Yankee Stadium.

President Theo Epstein told one of his consultants Cubs fans were "doing a great job of punching out those ballots." He then was informed All-Star voting is conducted only online now.

So when I asked Epstein about the Cubs' dominance in the early voting, he laughed and said: "I don't pay attention to that stuff. It's not a priority for me. I care about our players and I'd like to see them go, but I don't spend a ton of time thinking about it."

Of course, if the Cubs go to the World Series, they would like to have home-field advantage. And the more Cubs in the All-Star Game, the more they can help their own cause if they make it.

Still, Epstein wasn't buying into the All-Star hype. The Red Sox swept both World Series they won when he was their general manager (2004 and '07), he pointed out, so home-field advantage was not a factor.

"Teams want their guys to be recognized and we're happy for them," he said. "And then we just want them to get through the game healthy."

Those aren't exactly fighting words for a game that was marketed with the slogan "This Time It Counts" when MLB instituted the World Series home-field element in 2003. The 2002 game had ended in a 7-7 tie when the teams ran out of pitchers, leading to former Commissioner Bud Selig's knee-jerk reaction to give the game meaning and avoid future ties.

Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn't care to change the rule, even if most teams' executives probably feel like Epstein and are more interested in their players getting home healthy than their league having home-field advantage.

So we're stuck with the rule for the foreseeable future, and that's too bad. The team with the better record should have home-field advantage in the World Series.

While we're at it, players should select the starting lineups instead of fans.

Nothing against fans. Some of my best friends are fans. But players have a better idea of who should be in the game and would do a better job selecting them.

Understanding that fan voting increases interest, I still would let them vote, just not for the starting lineup. Voting wouldn't be conducted until July and would last only a few days, and we would be assured of at least a few innings with the most deserving players.

Players also should pick the starting pitchers instead of the managers, giving us a glimpse of whether they believe Arrieta or Clayton Kershaw is having a better season.


The Padres were "all-in" for 2015, trading prospects in an effort to win quickly.

They flopped big-time, and this year's team is even worse, causing executive chairman Ron Fowler to call them "miserable failures" during a radio interview.

"It has been embarrassing. I don't know how else to put it," Fowler said last Wednesday. "Our performance on the road trip, 1-7, was pathetic. I'm a very competitive individual. I think I've won a lot more than lost in my life. This baseball experience has been very frustrating, very embarrassing."

Doubling down, he pointed to $75 million starting pitcher James Shields, who had given up 10 runs in 22/3 innings the night before.

"To have a starter like Shields perform as poorly as he did yesterday is an embarrassment to the team, an embarrassment to him," Fowler said.

If Fowler had waited a couple of days, he could have tossed in starter Colin Rea and the Padres bullpen after they gave up a 10-run lead Thursday in a 16-13 loss to the Mariners.

Two days after that embarrassing episode, the Padres dealt Shields to the White Sox for two prospects, paying $31 million to the Sox to cover part of the remaining $58 million left on the deal. Quite a miserable week Fowler, who declined to throw GM A.J. Prefer under the bus.


The Braves are in their final year at Turner Field, where the Cubs visit next weekend for the final time.

No one will miss the ballpark known locally as "The Ted" because there's nothing particularly interesting about it. Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz made sure the new stadium, SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County, will have a right-field wall that's sure to be remembered, possibly for frustrating outfielders.

"We decided to have some personality in the wall _ how it's designed, how it looks, how it plays," Schuerholz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The wall will be 6 feet high in far left, then rise to 8 feet in left-center and center before going up to 16 feet in right-center and right. Padding will cover the lower 10 feet, but the top 6 will be all brick, meaning outfielders will have some tricky caroms.

"It'll be interesting when the right fielder goes back for a ball and the ball is above the pad and he can't quite catch it with his glove and it bounces off the brick," Schuerholz said. "(Right fielders) are going to have to get used to making that play, so that'll be neat."


San Francisco writer Bill Arnold reports that Scrabble champion Diane Firstman keeps track of pitching matchups with a high number of Scrabble points. Firstman said Monday's matchup between the Giants' Jeff Samardzija and the Braves' Mike Foltynewicz set a record with 60 points, using standard Scrabble rules. Congrats to both pitchers.