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Midsummer Classic under cloud of doping scandal

Major League All-Stars greet one another in the outfield during practice before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derby in Ne
Major League All-Stars greet one another in the outfield during practice before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derby in Ne

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major League Baseball's 2013 All-Star game, a Midsummer Classic meant to celebrate the best in the game, comes to New York's Citi Field on Tuesday under the threatening cloud of doping in the sport.

Through votes by fans, major league players and managers of the American and National League teams, the All-Stars of the nominal first half of the 162-game regular season get to show off their talents in a special showcase.

This year, the exploits of some of baseball's best have been overshadowed and in the case of young Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis called into question due to MLB's ongoing probe into some 20 players linked to a Florida anti-aging clinic purported to have supplied them with performance enhancing drugs.

MLB's active career home run leader Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was questioned by MLB investigators last Friday causing a flurry of new headlines over the scandal after former National League MVP Ryan Braun had previously met with them.

Other big names linked to the Biogenesis clinic run by Anthony Bosch, who is cooperating with MLB, include players on title contenders such as Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers and Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics and suspensions could be announced soon.

Given that cloud hanging over the game, the prodigious power displayed this season by 27-year-old Davis has drawn cynical doubts from some and left him defending his imposing line of 37 home runs and 93 runs batted in with a .315 batting average.

"It sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it," Davis, who hit 33 home runs last year in his first full season as a starter in the majors, told reporters.

"I have never taken them. I have no reason to. I've always been a power hitter. With me, I think the biggest thing was the consistency of the contact.

"People are going to believe what they want to believe."

National League All-Star manager Bruce Bochy, whose San Francisco Giants won last year's World Series, said the probe was important and that he supported efforts to remove doping from the sport.

"Baseball, the players, coaches, managers, we all are 100 percent behind MLB and cleaning up this game and just try to eliminate any kind of drugs that these players get involved with," Bochy said on Monday.

"And so we're behind this, and hopefully when this investigation is over, we can move on, move forward, and it's a shame we are having to deal with this now."

LOST NOVELTY

The All-Star game lost some of its novelty with the advent of inter-league play in 1997.

Prior to that, fans only got to see players from the two leagues play meaningful games in the World Series between the champions of the two leagues.

That made the All-Star game a suspenseful opportunity to see how each league's best players matched up against the other.

In trying to invest the game with new meaning, since 2003 the winning league has been awarded home-field advantage in the World Series and American League manager Jim Leyland thinks the arrangement is working.

"Home-field advantage won seven out of the last nine times," Leyland said on Monday. "I think it's a nice touch. You win this game, you do get that. I think you do live by the old saying, there's no place like home. I think pretty much sums that up."

The National League has won the last three All-Star games and also went on to win the last three World Series.

YOUNG TALENT

This year's All-Star game will feature 39 first-time players and Bochy said that says something about the new generation of talent reaching the major leagues.

"These guys are coming up now with incredible talent, these young players," said Bochy, whose first-timers include starting pitcher Matt Harvey of the Mets.

"We are seeing a rash or influx of tremendous young talent that really is changing our game. I think they are just getting better, faster, bigger, stronger.

"We are getting some great talent coming up from all over the world to play baseball."

Leyland said one seasoned veteran of the game will be certain to make an appearance - all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, who has announced this will be his last season.

"You can rest assured, he will be on the mound at some point," said Leyland. "You will see No. 42 pitch."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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