On Baseball: All-Star game secondary for many

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.

AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow in San Francisco and R.B. Fallstrom

in St. Louis contributed to this report.