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:
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.