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A time to soothe the game's rifts

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2002

Major League Baseball is standing on wobbly legs.

Major League Baseball is standing on wobbly legs.

At no other time since 1994 has the sport needed a pick-me-up, a shaking by the shoulders, a slap on the cheek and the resulting clarity, more than it does this week.

The All-Star break, a three-day stretch of activity that begins Monday and includes the midsummer classic Tuesday at Miller Park in Milwaukee, could be a first step toward renewed stability after months of off-field turbulence.

"This should be a time the fans can come out and see the best in the world," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who will lead the American League.

Instead it likely will be a time of continued uncertainty about whether those same fans will even see the end of August, much less a World Series.

The executive board of the players union meets Monday in Chicago to discuss the status of negotiations toward a new labor agreement -- the old one expired in November -- and whether a strike date should be set. The last time the players went on strike (1994), they held a similar meeting and decided 21/2 weeks after the All-Star break to set a strike date.

"Threatening the fans with what could happen down the road is bad enough," Torre said.

There also will be moments in commissioner Bud Selig's hometown when people wonder if some sluggers in the home run derby are going deep with performance-enhancing substances coursing through their veins.

Former National League MVP Ken Caminiti and former Bash Brother Jose Canseco publicly revealed in the past six weeks that they used steroids during their playing days. The issue of drug testing has been broached by owners and players during labor negotiations.

"I think to even go into (the home run derby) with that shadow hanging over it will take away from the event," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly, who will lead the National League. "I think that would be unfortunate."

UNSUCCESSFUL LOBBYING: The Royals tried mightily to get resurgent pitcher Paul Byrd on the AL All-Star team but failed.

Kansas City, which will be represented by first baseman Mike Sweeney for the third consecutive year, notified AL officials that it would adjust its rotation so Byrd would not pitch today if that was the reason he wasn't selected.

"That made me feel good," said Byrd, an All-Star with the Phillies in 1999 who was 11-5 with the Royals through Wednesday. "They said they would let me miss that last game. But you know? I think that would be kind of selfish. I want to help this team win first."

THE FUTURE IN WISCONSIN: Triple-A Durham outfielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Gerardo Garcia could face each other during the Futures Game today at Miller Park (5:30, ESPN2). Crawford and Garcia are two of 50 minor-leaguers selected for the game, a showcase for top domestic and international minor-league players. Each major-league organization is represented and the World Team has players from six foreign countries and Puerto Rico.

Past participants include Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano, Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell, Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett, A's pitchers Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia, White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle, Astros outfielder Lance Berkman and Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

ODDS AND ENDS: Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green, Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez and Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel all received $100,000 bonuses via clauses in their contracts for being chosen for the All-Star Game. ... Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne, a starter until late in spring training, reached 30 saves faster than any other reliever. He did so in 82 games before blowing his first save since early May on Wednesday. ... The Expos, who two weeks ago traded for Cleveland's Bartolo Colon, are said to be interested in Marlins outfielder Cliff Floyd and pitcher Ryan Dempster, Detroit's Robert Fick and Mets reliever Armando Benitez. ... Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez turned down an offer to be a spokesman for Viagra. Now Texas' Rafael Palmeiro appears in commercials for the drug.

THE LAST WORD: Astros closer Billy Wagner had some harsh words recently for owner Drayton McLane, who failed to re-sign Vinny Castilla, Moises Alou and Pedro Astacio during the offseason in order to keep payroll around $63.5-million.

"Let's see how the Yankees would do if you kept taking pieces away. We say, "We want to be champions.' Well, you can't be champions when you're putting young, inexperienced guys out there and asking them to play above their means."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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