All-Star ruminations

By | July 16, 2008

It seems like it’s the cool thing to rip on the All-Star game these days. A myriad of writers, both professional and mom’s-basement-dwelling, had criticisms of the selection process, or at least of some of the specific selections. One thing I have been pleased to see is that, at least among the things I have read (and let’s face it, I don’t have time to read everything, so my perception may not reflect reality), people aren’t just complaining — they’re actually suggesting concrete ways to fix it. Jayson Stark’s article in particular was focused not on whining, but on making suggestions. Some of his suggestions were remarkably similar to last year’s column, but there’s nothing wrong with a little repetition, I guess.

What I liked most about Stark’s column was that you can tell that he loves the All-Star game. A lot of the things I have read are written by people who clearly think the All-Star game is a waste of time. Some of them have said it explicitly, and others have made it clear from the tone of their criticisms. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily, but it’s an attitude that I can’t agree with, and it makes the opinions hard to agree with sometimes.

Like Jayson Stark, I love the All-Star game. Part of it is just my love for baseball in general — I’d rather watch a midseason game between the Royals and Mariners than a playoff game between the Lakers and Spurs. But even more than that, I love the magic of the All-Star game and its surrounding hoopla. Here are some of the specific things I loved about this year’s festivities:

  • I loved watching the Home Run Derby, watching grown millionaires sitting cross-legged on the grass with their kids and their video cameras. (Why do they all have video cameras? Don’t they have TiVo?)
  • I loved watching David Ortiz and other guys with superhuman ability marveling at the superhuman ability of Josh Hamilton.
  • I loved seeing Hamilton nearly in tears as the magic of the moment washed over him. At one point, when he had hit 24 or 25 homers, I actually thought he was going to bawl.
  • I loved seeing so many Hall of Famers in one place. I paused at one point to answer the phone or something, and when I got back, I noticed that I had happened to pause on a shot of Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, and Wade Boggs. How amazing is that quartet?
  • I loved seeing Cal Ripken. Cal has always brought a smile to my face, but last night when I paused on his close-up and told my little boy, “Hey, that’s who you’re named after,” I thought I might join Josh Hamilton in the crybaby club.
  • I loved seeing the best players currently in baseball play against each other.
  • I loved seeing Jason Varitek chuckle at being booed by the Yankee Stadium crowd, and I loved hearing the New York fans cheering J.D. Drew. Seriously, Dodger fans booed Drew when he played for their team, Red Sox fans booed Drew last year when he played for their team, and Phillies fans boo him all the time because he refused to play for their team, and HE is the one Red Sox player who can get cheers from the Yankees fans?
  • I loved seeing the relief on Dan Uggla’s face after Aaron Cook miraculously induced three weak grounders to save his bacon in the 10th inning.

There’s probably more. I’m sure of it. Overall, Monday and Tuesday were two great days. But I have some constructive criticism, because there were some problems that glared so brightly I sometimes had to consciously focus on the positive. Here are some of the things I didn’t love:

  • Here’s the bottom line: Josh Hamilton won the Home Run Derby. He hit more home runs than Justin Morneau. The guy who hits the most total home runs should be the winner. If a team scores 85 runs in the first inning, then gets outscored 12-1 in the last eight innings, guess what? They win 86-12!
  • Rick Reilly. In the interest of full disclosure, I have had a sore spot for Reilly ever since 2001, when he wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about BYU’s “unfair advantage” in football because most of their players had served two-year LDS missions and were therefore two years older than most of the guys they played against. I could write a ten page missive explaining all the problems there (most notably the fact that Mormon missionaries have less than twelve hours a week that isn’t devoted to proselyting, during which time they do their laundry, write letters to family and friends, go grocery shopping, and try to fit in a little light exercise here and there — not exactly the training regimen recommended for a college football player), but this is not the time or place for that. Since that time, I have tried to read a few things Reilly has written, but I’ve always either been bored or been overwhelmed by pretentiousness.

    So when Reilly started ranting about all the “white guys” in the Home Run Derby, I wanted to punch him in the throat. He compared it to a “Kiwanis Club meeting,” a line so obviously premeditated and designed for laughs that you had to wonder why he never noticed that it wasn’t funny. Race is a sensitive topic these days, and that’s because of comments like this. Reilly had absolutely no viable suggestion for who SHOULD have been there (sorry, but Ryan Howard and Ken Griffey aren’t on the All-Star team, and Miguel Tejada is no longer a power hitter), nor did he seem to notice the inherent racism in the idea that we should have minorities just for the sake of having minorities.

    But worst of all, when did we as a society decide that the only good kind of “diversity” is the “racial” kind. In this Derby, we had a 22-year-old rookie (Evan Longoria), a Canadian former MVP (Justin Morneau), a tiny little power-hitting second basemen who is a future MVP (Chase Utley), another tiny little power-hitting second baseman who was a Rule 5 draftee just three years ago (Uggla), a fat dude with bad knees and a mullet who happens to be one of the best hitters in baseball (Lance Berkman), a skinny little former Rookie of the Year who has started his career by hitting homers at a historic pace (Ryan Braun), and a fast little center fielder who happens to be leading the American League in home runs (Grady Sizemore). Oh yeah, and Josh Hamilton, whose story you may have heard about. Sure, the name recognition of previous Derbies was missing, but anyone who tells me it lacked diversity just because all the players were white is not a baseball fan, and therefore has no business being involved in ESPN’s coverage of a baseball event.

  • Joe Buck and Tim McCarver actually thought running out of position players was a bigger problem than running out of pitchers. It’s like they’ve never seen an American League game before — with the DH, you can play with the same position players for as long as you need to, as long as no one gets hurt. And the guy with the best chance of getting hurt — the catcher — has an exception that allows him to be replaced in the event of an injury. So, to be clear, running out of pitchers was a bigger issue than running out of position players. If you follow my handy rule of thumb (“The only time Tim McCarver is right is if Joe Morgan disagrees with him”), you won’t have a problem.
  • And now, the big one…

    Major League Baseball needs to decide what the purpose of the All-Star game is, and then it needs to act accordingly. Is it an exhibition, or does it matter? Those two are mutually exclusive, and by trying to lead a double life, MLB has turned the game into something that is destined to fail. If it hadn’t been last night, it would have been next year’s game, or the year after that — eventually, we were going to have another extra inning game like in 2002. And since all they’ve done since 2002 is slightly expand the rosters and repeat “This time it counts” over and over, an extra inning game was bound to cause problems.

    No, we didn’t end in a tie, so MLB executives probably see it as a success. But Brandon Webb and Scott Kazmir both pitched on one day’s rest after throwing 100+ pitches on Sunday. I’m sure Joe Maddon and Bob Melvin see a problem with that.

    When Michael Young lofted that game-winning sac fly to right, I quickly scanned my brain to try to remember how good Matt Holliday’s arm is. Then I remembered that it was Corey Hart in right field, and I realized that arm strength is not one of the three things I know about Corey Hart. (1. Looked cocky and uninterested during Ernie Banks’ pregame pep talk. 2. Has bad facial hair. 3. Has no business playing right field in an All-Star game with the game on the line.)

    Here is the NL lineup at the end of the game last night:

    Miguel Tejada
    Dan Uggla
    Adrian Gonzalez
    David Wright
    Cristian Guzman
    Corey Hart
    Ryan Ludwick
    Nate McLouth
    Brian McCann

    If I were a Major League manager, I’d be pretty pleased with that team. If I were an All-Star manager, though, I’d be wondering where all the All-Stars are. Oh yeah, that’s right, we took them out nine innings ago.

    Plain and simple, if this game means anything, then you do not take your best players out of the game. They have a day off before and a day off after, so no position player needs a rest. Your starting pitcher goes more than two innings. Cristian Guzman never leaves the bench, and if he does, it certainly won’t be to play third base, a position he has never played before. (Honestly, a team with Chipper Jones, David Wright, and Aramis Ramirez — not to mention Russell Martin — finishes the game with Cristian Guzman playing third?!? I guess when you have a .687 career OPS, they’ll do anything to get your bat into the game.)

    So, Mr. Selig, it’s time to decide: does the game matter or not? If it does, and if you really want to keep determining World Series home field advantage based on the All-Star game, then you need to make it clear and act accordingly. Get rid of the “every team must be represented” rule — Cristian Guzman deserves to be an All-Star because everyone else on his team is lousy? Make it clear to the non-starters that they might not get into the game. Make it clear that seven or eight of the twelve pitchers on the roster probably won’t get in the game. Either drop guys who are “unavailable” (like Webb and Kazmir last night) from the roster and replace them with fresh arms, or make the All-Star break longer so even guys who pitched the last game before the break are available for short relief. Oh yeah, and stop letting the fans put guys like Corey Hart on the team.

    Or go back to the game being an exhibition. Let the managers schedule the entire pitching staff and pitch them at one-inning intervals. Make the rule coming in that if the game is tied after ten innings (or whatever), it is over and it’s a tie and who cares it’s just an exhibition isn’t this awesome being in Yankee Stadium with dozens of Hall of Famers and Rudy Giuliani? Go ahead and take A-Rod out after two at-bats and Albert Pujols after three. Go ahead and give Corey Hart and Cristian Guzman their moments in the sun. Keep putting guys on the team who are having career years and will soon be forgotten. And while we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and let the team with the better record have home field advantage in the World Series.

    I honestly don’t care which route they take (I think I prefer the exhibition, but there are things about the other way that I like) — I just want them to make a decision and go with it. There’s no such thing as an exhibition that matters, and the schizophrenia is detracting from a beautiful event.

Those are my thoughts. Like I said, overall I loved the past two days, and I just want MLB to make it even better.

6 thoughts on “All-Star ruminations

  1. David Sallay

    Making it “count” by giving the winning league home field advantage in the World Series doesn’t change the fact that it’s an exhibition game. In fact, it’s absurd that an exhibition game should get to decide something as decisive as home field advantage. I agree with you though that they should make up their minds as it really is half exhibition, half significant game, and as result can’t really pull off either well.

    I wonder, what would your thoughts be on if they made it a pure exhibition game after the World Series, similar to the Pro Bowl in the NFL. That seems to make the most sense if the focus is on the stars. In doing so, you also wouldn’t have to worry about players be overworked or risking injury for an exhibition, since the season will have been long since over.

  2. BG

    I agree that the baseball All-Star game is awesome. Other than the World Series, it’s the best thing baseball has going.

    Before reading Jeff’s post, I had two main ways to improve the All-Star game. The first is basically what Jayson Stark suggests – make the All-Star break longer to give any Sunday starters the time to rest and still pitch in the classic. My other suggestion to improve the game may be slightly more hairbrained, but could be fun. And you wouldn’t have to lengthen the break. Have every team nominate one starting pitcher who could physically handle 9 innings in the All-Star game. This would probably not be a team’s #1 or #2 starter. Maybe not even #3 or #4. Then a lottery would be held to select one pitcher from each league. In the All-Star game, the manager is prohibited from using this pitcher unless the game goes to extra innings. That way the manager can continue to manage an All-Star game like he has the past few years, knowing that he has a horse he can ride through extra innings, if necessary. And it could be the thrill of a lifetime for 2 pitchers.

    After reading Jeff’s post, however, I am intrigued by the mutual exclusivity of an exhibition and playing for something. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I tend to agree. I want the players playing for something, though. One of the best parts of this year’s All-Star game was the effort displayed by the players in the extra innings. Aaron Cook bearing down to help relieve Dan Uggla’s cross was a perfect example. Think how awesome the game could be if the “1st String” All Stars (the A-Rods, Jeters, Pujols, Mannys, etc.) were in a meaningful game together at a meaningful time of the game. The result could be last night multiplied by about 50.

    So I agree with Jeff – baseball needs to decide what it’s All-Star game is. And keep a great thing going.

  3. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    Interesting idea, David, to put the game after the World Series. I can definitely see some advantages to that, but there are a few issues. For one, holding the game in late October or early November would make it hard for certain MLB cities to host the game — we’re already pushing Mother Nature by having the World Series end as late as it does. We’d save the three days off from the All-Star break, but there would have to be at least three days between the end of the World Series and the All-Star game, since the whole goal is for all the pitchers to be fresh. So the only way to pull that off would be to put the game in Hawaii like the NFL does, but I’ve noticed that while football fans care about who makes the Pro Bowl, no one actually watches the game.

    I would love to go back in time and watch a bunch of old All-Star games and see if the fact that it was an exhibition really made it less intense. I know Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate, but it’s hard to judge a large group of people based on what one person does, especially when that one person is Pete Rose. I like to think that the players would play hard and take pride in their performance even if nothing was technically on the line (it would be like playing for the Royals in September — or April, for that matter — except that all your teammates are good baseball players).

    I don’t know, I go back and forth on whether I want it to mean something or whether I want it to be an exhibition. I think ultimately, I don’t like WHAT the game counts for (isn’t it silly that if, for example, the Cardinals were to make the World Series this year, they wouldn’t get home field advantage because a team with eight Cubs lost the All-Star game?). I think I would like the game to count for something (and be played and managed as if it counted for something), but have that “something” not be WS home field advantage.

  4. Momma Snider

    But how would they determine home field advantage, then? You can’t wait until the end of the season to see who has the best record, because then there’s not enough time. I guess maybe the league that wins one year could have the advantage the next year.

  5. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    There is plenty of time to just give home field advantage to the team with the best record. They don’t know which team has home field advantage until the League Championship Series are over anyway (they know which league, but that only narrows it down to four teams at the end of the season and two teams after the Division Series), so it really wouldn’t be any different. I’ve heard people say it would cause traveling problems, but I think the teams’ travel secretaries could figure it out.

    Let’s say the Dodgers make it to the NLCS this year. Because the AL won the All-Star game, the Dodgers know they will be starting the World Series (if they make it) on the road, so they know it will be one of two places.

    Now let’s say that home field advantage goes to the team with the better record. They still know the two teams they might play against, and they know what the regular season records were. So if they had a worse record than both teams, they make the same tentative plans. If they had a better record than one of them, woohoo, they only have to make one tentative plan!

    So there is absolutely no reason, logistically speaking, why that system wouldn’t work.

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