THE WORST OF THE BEST
With the bad taste of the ending of this year’s All-Star game still lingering, it’s instructive to remember that a lot of the fuel for the fire to make sure every player gets into the game was generated by an incident in 1993. The All-Star Game that year was played in Baltimore, and late in the contest, after then-Oriole pitcher Mike Mussina found out he wasn’t going to be used by Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston, he got up and started throwing in the bullpen anyway. Due in part to Mussina’s “protest”—most of Camden Yards was chanting, “Moose, Moose,” while the shown-up Gaston fumed in the dugout—Major League Baseball since then has leaned on both leagues to get everybody out on the field. We asked Bobby Valentine, who managed the 2001 NL squad, what he thought of this year’s embarrassment. “I would’ve been in the same boat,” he said, and then talk turned to the 1981 game in Cleveland, in which Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb had to come up to bat—for the first time in his ML career, no less—in the ninth inning with the game on the line, because manager Jim Frey had run out of position players. Stieb went down swinging on three pitches; as they say, the more things don’t change, the more they stay the same.
Speaking of All-Stars and changing times, while ex-Met Robin Ventura made his first All-Star appearance in a decade, new Met Roberto Alomar spent his first All-Star break since 1990 at home in Florida rather than at the midsummer night’s folly. Given his disappointing play in the season’s first half, Alomar was asked if he consciously tried to take his mind off baseball during his mini-vacation. “Well, I did go the movies—I saw the Tom Cruise movie,” he said. “But I think about baseball every day—all the time.” Does he think about it at the movies? “No—unless there’s a scene about baseball,” laughed Alomar, who has started the second half on a tear and seems in far better spirits now that Valentine is penciling him in at the leadoff spot every day—something the recent bobblehead honoree has wanted since day one. —Billy Altman
LET’S BUILD TWO!
Bud Selig‘s ballpark, site of this season’s All-Star Game, is a bigger disaster than the unconsummated midsummer classic and is even more rickety than Selig’s last-place Milwaukee Brewers. Miller Park is witnessing the greatest second-year attendance decline of any of the 16 newest parks. Only a year after the new park’s debut, attendance has dropped alarmingly (by more than 32 percent) to nearly what it was at old County Stadium.
The park’s roof is jinxed—it killed several construction workers, it leaks buckets of rain on national TV, it makes terrible noises, its tires are wearing out, it has attracted the attention of insurance companies and lawyers, and because it’s used less and less, fans can no longer watch in awe as it’s opened or closed at the end of games to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz. The whole ballpark may be jinxed, in fact. The stands are heated, but the field isn’t, and players complain of frigid conditions.
So maybe Selig’s solution is . . . another new ballpark!
A new stadium would enable the team to compete on an equal footing with the Twins and the Expos, and squelch any idea of contracting the commissioner’s own team. A new park could be built on the site of old County Stadium, thus honoring the city’s baseball history. Maybe the famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (designer of a new wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum) could design the lid, making Beertown the first city in the world with two Calatrava moving roofs.
A new park would also bring yet another All-Star Game, along with that vaunted multimillion-dollar local economic impact, to Milwaukee in the near future. That would make Selig the first team owner to build two new ballparks in the same city. Pay no attention to the overzealous historic preservationists who would want to save Miller Park. This is clearly a win-win-win-win-win situation. —Otto Borchert
SUSPICIONS CONFIRMED DEPT.
When you go to the horse track and lose, you can’t go to the window and expect to cash in. But some of the tellers at New York tracks were using an ingenious scheme to take your losses and cash in on their tax returns. Sixteen employees of the New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, have pleaded guilty to tax fraud in connection with the scheme.
It is unclear how much money was taken by the employees (some of whom were “dealers” who were supposed to keep track of money distributed to tellers), or exactly how long the scam lasted, but U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad‘s office offered that it had been going on “for years.”
The scam worked like this: The tellers received money from bettors but routinely put some of it in their own pockets. (And some dealers pocketed cash as well.) The employees then reported that their cash drawers or cash bags were “short.” Under office policy, they were allowed to “pay back” the money to the NYRA in cash or through payroll deduction. But the employees also then claimed the money they paid back as unreimbursed expenses on their federal tax returns, reducing their taxable income and thus their tax bills—but not their actual income, of course.
All 16 were fired. Sentencing for three of the employees is scheduled for October; other sentencing dates haven’t been set. —Andrew Aber