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Hesketh sees the folly in All-Star Game’s high stakes

Joe Hesketh hasn’t played a game in 22 years, but he certainly hasn’t lost his passion for baseball. The former big-league pitcher is coaching the 14-under A-Turf Titans, keeping young players in good hands during critical years of development. His team played three games on Sunday while winning the Lancer Classic in Lewiston.

His weekend was well spent, but so was he by the time he returned home around 9 p.m. after a 13-hour day. He caught the end of Madison Bumgarner’s one-hitter against the Diamondbacks, hit the sheets and was back at the field by 8:30 a.m. Monday for the Southtowns Baseball Camp at Lakeshore Little League.

So it’s not as if Hesketh, who played 11 years with Montreal, Atlanta and Boston, stays awake drumming up ways to fix the All-Star Game. But the more he spoke Monday, the more ridiculous it sounded that the midsummer classic determines home-field advantage in the World Series.

“I don’t think the incentive should be laid on the All-Star Game,” Hesketh said. “Somehow or another, they should come up with an equation that works. Let’s take the American League champion and the National League champion. Whoever has the best record during the regular season and the playoffs, they deserve home-field advantage. That’s an incentive. That’s something to shoot for as a player.”

Finally, someone is making sense.

Long gone are the days in which the NL and AL met for festivities in July with the same intensity they carried into a pennant race. Years ago, they desperately wanted to win and prove which league was better. It came down to pride and was must-see TV before money took over, as it often does.

Hesketh remembered his reaction in 1970 when the All-Star Game ended in the 12th inning. He was 11 years old when Pete Rose barreled into Ray Fosse at home plate, dislodging the ball, not to mention Fosse’s left shoulder, for the winning run. Fourteen years later, Rose and Hesketh were teammates on the Expos.

“Pete didn’t care that it was an All-Star Game,” said Hesketh, who was 10-5 in 1985 before breaking his leg in a collision with Mike Scioscia. “He was thinking, ‘I’m trying to score.’ He wasn’t trying to hurt Ray Fosse. As a young kid watching that, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, now that’s a baseball player.’”

Rose left baseball with 4,256 hits, but that play under those circumstances was a defining moment in his playing career. Times have changed. Baserunners no longer are allowed to plow into fielders protecting bases, in part because there’s too much at stake. Baseball needs its stars, and players are making more money than ever.

In 1970, Willie Mays was baseball’s highest-paid player at $135,000. The minimum salary was $12,000, the average $29,000. Clayton Kershaw currently is the highest-paid player at $32 million, or $197,530 for each of the 162 games. The minimum salary is $507,500 in MLB while the average salary is $4.4 million.

Same game, different world.

The All-Star Game, which will be played Tuesday at Petco Park in San Diego, has evolved into a celebration of baseball with all the glitz and glamour. Fans grew more interested in the Home Run Derby than the actual game, which was fine so long as the game didn’t mean anything. And that’s precisely the problem.

Commissioner Bud Selig panicked after calling the 2002 game in a 7-7 tie because both teams exhausted their pitchers in 11 innings. Selig, embarrassed by the result, determined the two teams needed incentive to win. He overreacted and decided the winning league would be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series.

“It’s weird,” Hesketh said. “They say it’s an exhibition, but at the end of the day it does mean something. To me, when they have the Midsummer Classic, it should be an exhibition. It should be something for the fans to say, ‘Hey, let’s go out and watch the best players’ or supposedly the best players.’ ”

Fourteen years after Selig’s decision, we’re left with an exhibition game that shouldn’t matter but does, rosters selected by fans who are encouraged to stuff online ballot boxes, players who know more about talent than anyone have little say, top starting pitchers like Bumgarner unavailable because they threw over the weekend, and the league encouraging players to embrace social media during the game.

It’s a sales pitch.

But it matters.

Twenty-four of the past 30 teams with home-field advantage won the World Series, including five of the past six that have used the All-Star Game as the determining factor. Only four times since Selig implemented his asinine idea has the team that failed to gain home-field advantage won the series.

The real shame in baseball embarrassing itself with its thinking is that baseball gets its All-Star Game right on the field. Compared to other sports, it most resembles the game you see during the season. The NHL and NBA all-star games are comical, starting with a ridiculous amount of scoring against virtually no resistance. The Pro Bowl looks like a pillow fight.

But baseball can learn from the other leagues, which aren’t trying to liven up interest with some phony show of importance. All-star games in the others leagues are what they claim, exhibitions for fans and a chance to celebrate their respective sports. They’re a means of honoring the best players for their talent and production.

In the NBA and NHL, the teams with the best records during the regular season are awarded home-court or home-ice advantage. It makes sense for baseball, too. The team with the best record during the regular season should get home-field advantage. If they win the same number of games, there are other solutions.

“Tiebreakers,” Hesketh said. “The good thing about that is that it’s based on what the players did. It’s not based on one game that’s really not 110 percent. The home-field advantage should be based on what the players accomplished. It should be decided at the end of the season, and it should be decided by the players.”

Amen, brother.