- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The good news is the pitcher who belonged on the All-Star team all along, Roger Clemens, will be here. The bad news is the league apparently didn't bother telling the pitcher he replaces.
Instead, last year's Cy Young award winner, Barry Zito, learned he was being dropped from the active All-Star roster when reporters told him during a news conference that commissioner Bud Selig had just revealed the roster change on The Dan Patrick Show. Zito, who remains on the "official'' All-Star roster, did not appear angry or hurt at the news but he was definitely confused.
"It's like you're with a girl and a friend comes up and tells you that she doesn't want to date you anymore,'' he said while sitting in hotel ballroom with the rest of the American League All-Stars.
"There is nothing wrong physically,'' Zito went on. "I'm not hurt. I haven't got official word yet but that's what everyone is telling me. I just want to know the reason. Is it because someone in Oakland said something? Or is it because (Major League Baseball) doesn't have confidence in me pitching on one-day rest?"
How could such a thing possibly happen? As if you need to ask after last year's All-Star Game ended in a tie?
According to major-league representatives, the Athletics contacted Major League Baseball late Sunday and said they didn't want Zito pitching in the All-Star Game because he threw 106 pitches earlier in the day. MLB then tracked down Clemens (who had flown to his Houston home after Sunday's game) to see if he was available to play and didn't find that out for sure until Monday's news conferences began. And all the while, major-league officials said, they simply assumed that Oakland had informed Zito already.
Contacted by reporters by phone, Oakland general manager Billy Beane and manager Ken Macha both said that Zito was told Sunday the team had decided he shouldn't pitch in the game. (They did not, however, take the blame for giving President Bush inaccurate information on Iraq's nuclear arms program.)
"We told him that it was prudent that he didn't pitch and that the A's were going to have Mark Mulder available for two innings and Keith Foulke available for one,'' Macha told a reporter by phone. "That was three innings from our pitching staff and that was sufficient.''
"Barry was informed of that decision and acquiesced,'' MLB vice president Sandy Alderson said. "That was the information relayed to us, and we acted on that information."
So what's the full story? Did Major League Baseball willy-nilly decide to put Clemens on the roster at the last moment without regard to the feelings of one of their brightest young stars? Did Zito somehow misunderstand when his manager, pitching coach and general manger told him he wouldn't be pitching in the game (What part of 'No' don't you understand?). Or did the Athletics somehow forget to tell their Cy Young pitcher that they didn't want him competing in the All-Star Game, letting him instead fly 3,000 miles roundtrip to sit on the bench?
None of those possibilities sounds particularly believable but remember, we're talking about baseball, where any sort of public-relations blunder is possible.
The only thing that is certain is that communication left something to be desired.
The frustrating part is this entire situation could have been avoided so easily. Clemens, who plans to retire after this season, should have been named to the original team, both for his season and career. And the Athletics, who have had their rotation set for some time, could have decided last week that Zito shouldn't pitch in the All-Star Game if he was pitching Sunday, giving baseball plenty of time to adjust.
Not that Sunday's start should prevent Zito from pitching in the All-Star Game. While pitchers often drop out of the All-Star Game after a Sunday start, Tuesday is Zito's day to pitch on the side anyway and he says he could pitch an inning. Zito threw only one pitch in last year's contest, a workload he could easily sustain.
After all, Florida rookie Dontrelle Willis pitched Sunday and threw 102 pitches but he will be available for Tuesday's game.
Or, at least, as far we know, he will be available.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
5hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com