On Baseball: All-Star game secondary for many

July 11, 2011 - 3:29 AM
Rays Yankees Baseball

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price throws against the New York Yankees in the fourth inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Yankees won 5-4. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

PHOENIX (AP) — Forty years ago, the All-Star game really was played by stars.

Back then, 18 future Hall of Famers took the field at Tiger Stadium.

This year, 16 All-Stars backed out of Tuesday night's desert showdown.

Some are seriously injured. But others managed to play for their clubs over the weekend.

No matter the reason, the All-Star game has lost some of its luster.

"You only get so many chances to play in an All-Star game in your life," the Los Angeles Angels' Torii Hunter, a four-time All-Star not selected this year, "but if you're not healthy, you can't play anyway."

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa thinks the situation has improved from two or three decades ago. After Reggie Jackson's memorable home run off a light tower led the American League to a 6-4 win in Detroit, the NL rolled to victories in 13 of the next 14 meetings.

"A lot of guys were taking a pass. It was really kind of embarrassing to the game. It's like an infection that went around, and now gratefully guys are very excited to go," La Russa said, contrasting it with the period in the '80s when he maintained "the American League played it like an exhibition."

Following the infamous 7-7, 11-inning tie at Milwaukee in 2002, when both teams ran out of pitchers, baseball started using the All-Star game to decide homefield advantage in the World Series. The AL won the next seven, giving them 12 straight All-Star wins in games played to a decision before Brian McCann's three-run double in the seventh off Matt Thornton boosted the NL to a 3-1 victory last year in Anaheim.

In the eight World Series since the All-Star result determined who started the championship at home, five of the teams hosting the opener went on to win the title.

"Homefield advantage obviously matters," the Giants' Bill Hall said. "If you're playing in a hitters' ballpark in the World Series for more games than three, it would take away from us as a pitching staff than if another team had to come here. It definitely matters."

To ensure teams would have enough players, each team's roster was increased from 30 players in 2002 to 32 the following summer to 33 in 2009 and 34 last year. After some All-Star games, clubhouses were nearly empty after the final out, leaving the impression some players already were on private planes home during the late innings.

But larger rosters appear to have caused more withdrawals.

Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino are on the disabled list, and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was slated to have knee surgery Monday. Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun (calf) missed his team's last eight games heading into the break and Philadelphia third baseman Placido Polanco (back) was sidelined for his club's last six.

Six pitchers were knocked off the rosters because they started for their clubs Sunday: the Yankees' CC Sabathia, the Rays' James Shields, the Tigers' Justin Verlander, the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, the Phillies' Cole Hamels and the Giants' Matt Cain.

That leaves three especially questionable opt-outs: Tampa Bay's David Price pitched Saturday despite what the Rays called turf toe. Derek Jeter (calf) and Mariano Rivera (triceps) were healthy enough to play for the Yankees during the weekend.

La Russa, like most managers, focuses on the players who are available.

"The reason that thing's so special is it's a hell of a lot more reasonable competition than the other sports, and the guys generally go there to win," he said.

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AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow in San Francisco and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.