Baseball keeps on dancing despite looming iceberg ahead

Thomas Boswell, MILWAUKEE, The Washington Post

Baseball tried so hard to please everyone Tuesday night at the All-Star Game that it might make you nervous. The sport seemed to be making amends in advance, as if everybody, from the players to Commissioner Bud Selig, knew what was up, what was coming, and wanted to give fans a nice condolence card in advance. National League starter Curt Schilling, who had promised that “the only strike on Tuesday” would be the strikes that he threw, fanned Shea Hillenbrand, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi in a row. Watch out, Carl Hubbell. Torii Hunter leaped so high to steal a home run from Barry Bonds in the first inning that Hunter’s shoulder was at the top of the eight-foot-high center field wall in gorgeous Miller Park. Bonds, not exactly known for spontaneous comradeship or horseplay, pretended to give Hunter a congratulatory high-five as they crossed paths, then tackled the 205-pound Twin and carried him on his shoulder like a child. “I thought he was Michael Jordan,” Sammy Sosa said. “Everybody was speechless,” Schilling said of Hunter’s catch. “Those are the moments people will never forget when they are here. That’s one thing that makes the game as great as it is. Every night, you get to see something you have never seen before.” See, just too nice to be true. Yes, Curt, there’s something new every night — that is, as long as you guys keep playing the games. Next time up, Bonds hit a fastball for a two-run homer off Roy Halladay of Toronto to give the home National League a 4-0 lead. Maybe some of Hunter’s family, if they had tickets in the second deck in right-center field, might have caught it — but not Torii. For two days, it has been like that — everybody on his best behavior and best performance. If somebody catches your potential home run, then just bash another one. Everybody cheerful, well-mannered and glad to answer any question on any subject, no matter how touchy. Steroids? Sure, let’s talk about that. “The emotions of the last two nights that this game has brought out. … I can’t tell you what it feels like to be part of that and to make people feel that way about the sport,” added Schilling, one of the veteran players most plugged into the players union. Curt, just throw the smoke. Don’t blow it. If you spend much time around real baseball, as played for six grueling months by gentlemen who aren’t always so polite, it has been ominously idyllic for these two days. So, maybe, we should bask in it while it lasts. The whole sport seems to be holding its breath. The players decided not to announce a strike vote Monday, as some feared. But that date announcement is probably coming. If they’re feeling patriotic, maybe they can at least wait until Sept. 12. Top management sources say that the season can still be saved. But, in the next breath, they are quick to tell you that there has been absolutely no progress on the luxury tax issue and, without movement from the players, the owners aren’t budging. “Revenue sharing has reached the point where it is probably just arguing about money. That can be solved,” a management source said. But the players see the owners’ luxury tax plans as a philosophical — or should we say theological — gulf. Perhaps Selig knows something that others do not. Here in opulent Miller Field, built largely with taxpayer funds, where his daughter owns the Brewers, Selig brought together every shred of nostalgia, exploitative schmaltz and genuine baseball enthusiasm that the game can muster. Why just introduce Cal Ripken to the crowd if you can have Bonds and his godfather, Willie Mays, hug each other in right field? How about a tribute to “October heroes,” even though it isn’t October. Get Carlton Fisk, Reggie Jackson, Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter at home plate for a mass mug. The first pitch? Why have just one? Not when you can have a separate mound and home plate for former Milwaukee stars Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Don’t forget the jet flyover, the 500 Children of Milwaukee with bats like light sabers, the Rudy Giuliani guest appearance, the Ted Williams tribute, the Jack Buck tribute, the Sept. 11 silence and the fireworks. Nice work, Bud. Probably nobody will even notice a strike. Actually, there were at least 10 other special events. Why waste all that dead time between half innings? Next year, maybe the All-Star Game can use the seventh-inning stretch for bingo. Before the ninth inning, the crowd gave one of its biggest cheers for a race around the warning track among four men dressed as a hot dog, a bratwurst, an Italian sausage and Polish sausage. The Orioles’ Tony Batista, in the on-deck circle, did not see them coming. Tragedy was averted when the brat swerved. At least the Brewers can afford the frills. Despite having the sport’s worst record, they made more money in ‘01 than any team, including the Yankees. If you keep your revenue-sharing and luxury-tax kickbacks from the rich clubs and don’t spend the money on good players, it’s amazing how the books stand up and salute. You can even have an all-star game as tacky as a Super Bowl. Well, almost: There were fewer cannons and less smoke. Ichiro Suzuki summed it all up best: “It’s very, very rare to see this type of ceremony in Japan.” Ichiro really can do it all — he even kept a straight face. An all-star game is never a unified event, or even an athletic contest, as much as it is a series of impressions, slices of baseball life. Often, the game itself, actually seems like an extra course in case anyone isn’t already satiated. This one had so much jammed into it that you wondered what it really meant, especially because the man behind it all was Selig. At least he was kind enough to let everyone know what was on his mind. Before the game, at something called a “Second Town Hall Meeting,” Selig answered every question anybody could cook up. Why are games so long? How can you test for steroids? When will relocation be addressed? Would Selig prefer a work stoppage to the current labor status quo? (At first he said “no,” then he changed his mind and said they were equally repugnant.) Finally, no one could think of another question to ask Selig on what has become his annual State of Everything hour, even though some of the queries were sent from as far away as Tasmania and Singapore. In fact, only one subject had been overlooked entirely. No one had asked a question actually about baseball.