It's time to end an unresolvable debate and accept the All-Star Game as it is. Ever since commissioner Bowie Kuhn returned balloting for starters to the fans in 1970, critics have whined that "deserving" players have been losing out to "popular" players. Big deal? The managers are required to use their starters only for three innings, and the skippers select pitchers and subs themselves. But more to the point, the All-Star Game was always intended to be an exhibition, not a championship game. "The glamour of the game is the gathering, not the ball game," says Detroit pitcher Jack Morris.
The public understandably opts to see Ozzie Smith making his spectacular fielding plays and back flips and Reggie Jackson taking his mighty cuts, regardless of their batting averages. Even the players get in the mood. They relish asking each other to autograph bats and balls. "There's a special camaraderie that doesn't exist at any other time of the year," says Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. And a special swagger, too. In a triumph of common sense, officials this year cleared the press from the area around the batting cage so the public could view hitting practice without being screened by reporters. And what did BP spectators see in San Francisco? A spectacular impromptu home-run contest between Jackson and Eddie Murray.
The 1984 All-Star doings would have been better still if American League manager Joe Altobelli and the National League's Paul Owens had named 45-year-old Yankee Phil Niekro and 19-year-old Met Dwight Gooden, respectively, as their starting pitchers. And why did Altobelli remove Bill Caudill, and what possessed Owens to replace Fernando Valenzuela after each pitcher had fanned the side? They deserved the opportunity to break Carl Hubbell's 50-year-old record of five consecutive Ks. What the All-Star Game needs is better stage-managing, not a new cast.