All-Stars playing for more this year

There wasn’t much fanfare behind it, but Major League Baseball players and owners decided in May to let the winning league of the MLB All-Star Game have home-field advantage in the World Series. The experiment starts Tuesday evening.

Baseball fans are excited. Baseball purists think it stinks. And Fox, the network carrying next Tuesday’s game, thought it was necessary, after last year’s debacle in Milwaukee. That’s when baseball commissioner Bud Selig decided to call the game in the 11th inning of a 7-7 tie. A sell-out crowd at Miller Park, the Brewers’ home field, booed Selig, the team’s former owner, and chanted “Bud must go!” and “Let them play!” This year, Selig has promised, there will be none of that.

Besides letting the American League or National League have home-field advantage in the World Series if they win the All-Star Game, a few other changes to the mid-summer classic are already implemented.

Fans still vote for the starting line-ups for both teams, but managers, players and coaches finally have a say in filling out the rest of the rosters. Anyone who wears a team uniform during a game gets to vote for eight position players on the NL side, and nine on the AL side, along with five pitchers each. The fans get to vote in the 32nd and final member for each side. This year, catchers Jason Varitek and Benito Santiago are leading the 32nd player voting.

This season, both leagues are sending legitimate Triple Crown candidates to Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field. In the American League, Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado leads the league in home runs and RBIs. He is batting over .300, too, but he’s dozens of points behind the AL’s leading hitters. In the NL, St. Louis Cardinal left fielder Albert Pujols leads everybody in batting average, and he is also just a few home runs and RBIs away from the lead in those categories, too. Amazingly, Pujols wasn’t even near the top of the voting for outfielders. It took a late push last week to take him from the outside looking in to the top of the NL in voting.

Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi, two of the biggest names in baseball and the source of some terrific home-run derbies over the last five years, are the two biggest names missing this summer. Giambi has had a great first half, but a glut of Yankees and a bunch of first basemen in the All-Star Game doomed his bid. Sosa, caught using a corked bat earlier in the season, wasn’t voted in by fans and was bypassed by the coaches and players. Sosa led the league in voting last year.

One of the most far-out attractions of the All-Star Game is the Legends and Celebrity softball game. The fences are moved in to 250 feet, and it is a serenely lifting experience to watch some of the most celebrated sluggers of all time, like Cecil Fielder and Dave Winfield, pop out to short right field while Ice Cube and Adam Corolla sting the ball and send it out.

The softball game might be more fun than the rest of the All-Star festivities, solely for the humor aspect, but truly, nothing is more exciting than the actual All-Star Game. Remember the 2001 game, when Cal Ripken Jr. smacked a home run into the visitor’s bullpen at Seattle’s Safeco Field? He took home the game’s most valuable player award in his final season. It is now one of the most memorable moments in All-Star Game history, but really, even the most eminently forgettable All-Star games are better than a tie. Hopefully, last year’s stunner is the last time we’ll ever have to watch a baseball game end in a tie. Once a millennium is enough.