As an annual exhibition of stars, baseball’s All-Star Game is attractive and exciting. It provides a welcome four-day break midway through a grueling season.
But the suits are determined to make it something it isn’t.
Fan balloting — vote early, late and frequently — is such a farce that it makes a Chicago alderman race appear honest. Some stadiums provide drinks and locations to pad the ballot box. Everybody stuffs. With the help of computerized social media, there are private deals between teams (you vote for mine, I’ll vote for yours). And when the last NL slot came down to the Braves’ Freddie Freeman vs. L.A.’s new sensation, Yasiel Puig, the Atlanta outfielder had a huge advantage because he had home games while the Dodgers traveled.
But my beef goes beyond the selection process, absurd game strategies and the fact that some of these stars may at some point be banned for using performance-enhancing drugs. We are allowing a truly important championship, the World Series, to settle home field based on an exhibition. Imagine doing that for the NBA playoffs, where we’ve just seen Miami edge San Antonio 4-3, with the last two wins at home. Does anyone think the Heat would have won Games 6 and 7 in San Antonio?
Consider: The 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins lost all six road games and won all eight home games to capture both series, four games to three. Arizona did the same thing in downing the Yankees 4-3 in 2001. It isn’t always that lopsided but get this: No road team has won a seventh game of the World Series in the last quarter century. When the Cardinals rocked Texas with a miracle finish in 2011, the last two wins were at Busch Stadium.
I don’t care if you alternate from year to year or give a home advantage to the team with the best season record. Flip a coin. Anything is better than awarding such a valuable bonus based on an exhibition.
Thought-provoking summer subject:
Whose idea was it to pit Illinois against Nebraska in Big Ten football openers the next five years?
From the UI viewpoint, this is far from ideal for myriad reasons.
First, this is like two strangers meeting in a train station. Illinois, which soon will lose Ohio State and Michigan as natural rivals — the Illini and Buckeyes will meet Nov. 16 for the 98th time in 100 years — has played the Cornhuskers three times since Red Grange was a senior in 1925. The teams tied 21-21 in the UI’s Big Ten co-championship season of 1953 (when a sophomore unknown, J.C. Caroline, should have won the Heisman) and the Huskers ran up 111 points in two romps in 1985-86. Nebraska earned status to become a Big Ten member entirely based on football accomplishments over the decades.
Second, with Tim Beckman’s Illini needing something good to happen, it isn’t likely to occur in consecutive conference openers in Lincoln. While attendance is slipping all over the country, including at Illinois, the Huskers are engaged in fan-supported seating expansion and standing-room-only areas. If they don’t top 90,000 fans Oct. 5, they will when Illinois arrives there again in 2014. Their NCAA-record sellout streak dates to 1962 (currently at 325).
Third, while Bo Pelini’s team hit some speed bumps last season, giving up 63 points at Ohio State and 70 in the Big Ten playoff against Wisconsin, the Huskers defeated Wisconsin at home and have won 19 of the last 21 games at Memorial Stadium. This 2013 team figures to be electric on offense with Californian Taylor Martinez, a fleet senior, spearheading the attack. He threw for 2,871 yards and ran for 1,019 last season.
Nutshell: Opening Big Ten play against the Huskers — Oct. 5 will be Nebraska’s fifth consecutive home date — isn’t the ideal way to lift the Illini out of their doldrums.
Subjects on which we might agree:
— Brad Stevens will lose more games this season with the Boston Celtics than he did (49 losses) in all six seasons at Butler.
Like so many others who moved from college to the NBA, he inherits a team that is, like him, youthful and inexperienced.
And there were enough rumblings between the departed Doc Rivers and the Celtics’ lone remaining star, Rajon Rondo, to see problems developing there.
Like Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, John Calipari and various others, Stevens’ next job will find him back in college.
— Regardless how the Aaron Hernandez murder trial turns out, college and pro coaches will continue to believe they can take a wayward athlete and turn him into a valued star. The UI had signals aplenty regarding Jereme Richmond, and with Josh Brent as well. But the problems of their teen years have only grown worse despite repeated opportunities.
— After years of stagnation in women’s track, the Illini had arrows pointing skyward until coach Tonja Buford-Bailey moved to Texas. The task now is to quickly put a coach in place and re-recruit all those Illini athletes prior to the start of fall classes Aug. 26. Some of them might consider following their respected coach to Austin, where track is important and they actually conduct outdoor home meets.
— As a baseball fan, George Will writes occasional baseball columns that are extraordinary, and he is strikingly understandable as a conservative pundit on TV. But does anybody else have my problems with his complex, multisyllable political columns that zoom like fly balls over my head? Let’s concede you’re smarter than the rest of us. Simpler would be better.
— With rebounding and defense so critical, John Groce’s second Illini quintet probably won’t be as successful as his first. They’ve simply lost too many veterans. But they should be more accurate from the three-point arc (29.4 percent in 18 Big Ten games isn’t hard to top), and they’ll shoot more free throws. The latter will be true because, wherever they’ve played, Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill have displayed moves that draw fouls. Others can learn it’s OK to get a shot blocked if you’re drawing contact.
— Showtime: Who would have guessed that the Lone Ranger and Superman would strike out in the same summer? And that Jon Voight is more than Angelina Jolie’s father. In his juiciest role since “Midnight Cowboy,” Voight is stealing the “Ray Donovan” series by being so evil, so corrupt, so depraved. So perfect. If you’re waiting on “Homeland” to return, check “Ray Donovan.”
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.