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Will Interleague Play Take the Shine Off the All-Star Game?

July 9, 1996

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Randy Johnson vs. John Kruk in 1993 at Camden Yards. Greg Maddux vs. Cal Ripken in 1994 at Pittsburgh. Hideo Nomo vs. Albert Belle last summer at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Think of the most intriguing at-bats in recent All-Star games, and then think about why they’re so special: All fans love a good pitcher-hitter matchup, and those are ones they don’t ordinarily see.

Same goes for Tuesday night’s game. How will NL starter John Smoltz fare against Wade Boggs? How will AL starter Charles Nagy do against Barry Larkin?

By next summer, though, no one will have to wonder.

Interleague play is supposed to start in June, meaning Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves might have already played Boggs and the New York Yankees, Nagy and the Cleveland Indians might have already faced Larkin and the Cincinnati Reds.

That means no more mystery for many All-Star matchups. And that, six-time NL batting champion Tony Gwynn contends, is not a good thing.

``From the National League fan’s standpoint, they want to see the American League stars play,″ Gwynn said. ``And probably, we should feel the same way.

``But this game is a special occasion and a special time that a lot of guys don’t have the opportunity to enjoy,″ he said. ``My feeling is interleague play may take away from this event.″

NL manager Bobby Cox of Atlanta agrees.

``I’m not an advocate of interleague play, OK?″ he said. ``I like it the way it is. There are franchises, obviously, in trouble and this will increase attendance. Eventually, I think it will take a little luster off the World Series and All-Star game.″

Certainly, the introduction of interleague play _ the plan still needs approval from the players union _ will change elements of the All-Star game.

As in, rather than just sitting back in the dugout and appreciating the talents of opponents such as Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton and Mike Piazza, players might be paying more attention to details.

``You will be more apt to try to get some scouting in,″ Kansas City Royals reliever Jeff Montgomery said.

The question of whether interleague play will hurt the All-Star game is still a year away. In the meantime, this year’s game has another problem _ injuries.

Gwynn and Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams were out even before Monday’s workouts began. Now, there’s also a chance Roberto Alomar and Frank Thomas might not be able to play, either.

Gwynn, elected to start in the outfield, is sidelined with heel trouble. His spot in the lineup will be taken by Lance Johnson, who will lead off and play center field.

Johnson will be the first player from the New York Mets to start an All-Star game since Howard Johnson in 1989. Howard Johnson also was a replacement, taking the third base spot that Mike Schmidt vacated when he retired earlier that season.

``I was really looking forward to seeing Tony hit,″ said NL teammate Greg Maddux, who might not be able to pitch because of a cracked nail on his right big toe. ``He’s one of the guys I like to watch.″

Griffey, the leading vote-getter in fan balloting for starting spots, is unable to play for the second straight year. He has a broken right hand, though it did not prevent him from standing at shortstop while the AL took batting practice.

``I’m here for the fans, and the Philly cheesesteaks,″ he said. ``They voted me to be here, and I’m here. That’s my obligation, and I didn’t want to let them down.″

Brady Anderson, leading the majors with 30 home runs, will start in place of Griffey in right field and bat eighth. Anderson normally bats leadoff and plays center for Baltimore.

``Just being in the starting lineup is an honor to me,″ he said. ``It doesn’t matter where I’m batting.″

Williams also will be absent for the second straight summer, this time because of a bruised elbow. Chipper Jones of the Braves will start instead at third base for the NL.

Alomar, voted to start at second base for the AL, missed the workouts because of an injured finger. He is listed to bat third by AL manager Mike Hargrove, who said Minnesota’s Chuck Knoblauch would start if Alomar can’t play.

Thomas has been hampered by a sore left foot for about a week. If the Chicago White Sox first baseman cannot start _ the injury cost him a chance to defend his title in the home run derby _ Mo Vaughn of Boston will play.

``I’m in a tremendous amount of pain,″ Thomas said. ``You get voted in, you want to come. Who knows if I’m going to play or not?″

The AL also has Oakland’s Mark McGwire as a backup first baseman. He hit the longest ball in Monday’s home run derby, reaching the upper deck in left field with a 460-foot drive, but Bonds won the overall competition.

Albert Belle, meanwhile, did not take part in the contest. He was asked by baseball officials to participate, but said no.

``I was surprised Frank Thomas and Albert Belle weren’t in it,″ Bonds said.

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