Breaking Balls: Ranting and raving about the All-Star Game
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is upon us. The game is also known as the Midsummer Classic – but I like to call it: “The Magical Good Time Super-Fantastic Midsummer Baseball Classic™.”
Baseball’s version is by far the most interesting of all the major sports All-Star games. It’s the only All-Star game where the players actually play the game the way they would play a regular season or playoff game – mostly because the have to. In basketball, the All-Star games become scoring competitions that are just glorified games of H.O.R.S.E. with no one bothering to play any defense. In football, they add “protective” rules to soften the game and prevent unnecessary injuries. And in soccer, the players wear a special kind of pantyhose that doesn’t scuff their pedicures.
However, in baseball, you have to play full speed. You have to pitch full speed. You have to swing at full speed. And you have to defend. It’s a game wherein lollygaggers are not trifled.
Baseball’s All-Star Game is a celebration of the sport and serves as an acknowledgement of the exceptional performances, both short- and long-term, by players. It also acts as sort of the unofficial kick off for the second half of the season and, with basketball and hockey done, it’s really the only major sport happening.
They call it the “all star” game but looking at the rosters, you might be better off calling it the “some stars” game. I was going to do an article about what players deserve to be All-Stars this season because so often players get snubbed and players are chosen who should not be there unless they are friends with an actual All-Star and said friend just happened to have an extra ticket. But the problem with an article like that is that it requires a bit of “research” – and I think we all know that ain’t gonna happen.
Then I thought, “You know what would be fun is to compare athletes to actors and make comparisons with their personalities, career arcs, etc.” But there are a lot of All-Stars. They start with 34 for each league – that’s 68 dudes. That would be a lot of actor comparisons, and I don’t think you or I am up for that. Not to mention, there are the injury replacements and that gets us up near 80. That’s a lot. Check your email, at this rate you might be the next person they add to the roster.
The funny thing is, even at 80 players, there are still quite a few guys who got overlooked for the teams. Recently the league has tried to change the way players are picked so the “injustices” are avoided. Yes, “injustice” might seem a bit strong, but imagine if you were a baseball player and you were having a great season and you weren’t selected to the All-Star Game so you had to take a four-day vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and cry yourself to sleep on your giant money pillow?
Beyond the pure ego concerns of being chosen as an All-Star, most players get some sort of bonus, and having been selected would probably increase the player’s eventual free-agent value as well as slightly improving their odds in the season-ending awards and eventually their Hall of Fame consideration. But, with all that considered, really it’s about the ego.
Every year there are these “mistakes” and “snubs” – but the source of these problems is laziness. The fans pick their favorite players – that’s okay with me. However, when the managers and players make their picks, it’s hard to tell if any of them even know the difference between who’s playing well and who has a recognizable name. That’s just laziness.
Okay, you know what, I am going make this column about who should or shouldn’t be there. And that’s going to mean doing some research – and I’m going to do it to prove that I am not like one of these lazy players or managers when it comes to picking who should be an All-Star – though I may be lazier than them in literally every other aspect of life.
The key to writing a column complaining about the All-Star selections is waiting until right before the game, because with all the injury replacements and pitchers who can’t play because they pitched recently, you don’t really know who actually made the team until just a day or two before, and then all the ranting and raving and chastising you were doing about Jake Peavy not making the team is all just so much gas, because he just got named to the team Sunday.
So, let’s get started with the ranting and the raving and the chastising. If I don’t mention a player here just assume it’s because he deserved to be on the team (or my research skills failed me).
American League of Un-extraordinary Gentlemen
Mike Napoli (catcher) – This one is really the fault of the fans. He is the All-Star team’s starter. Yikes. Do you remember before the summer of last year when Napoli was considered a slightly above-average hitting catcher with below-average defensive skills? Well, it looks like that version of Mike is back and he’s having an awful year. But for a few months last year, he was a hitting machine and he helped the Rangers get to the World Series. Now he’s taking up the place of an All-Star.
Derek Jeter (shortstop) – Another one that’s on the fans as Jeter was voted onto the team as a starter. Again. Despite unimpressive offensive and defensive statistics. Again. “But, Jed, he had an awesome April.” True, but there are also other months where games were played in which he was mostly an un-awesome participant. Jeter does bring star value to the game. (There! I said something nice.)
Elvis Andrus (shortstop) – His numbers are okay. But “All-Star”? Not quite. Now is probably a good time to mention that many of the players selected for the All-Star team are chosen by the managers of the two teams that played in the previous season’s World Series. For the AL, that is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers. Andrus is on the Rangers. His incorrect inclusion on the All-Star team is now explained.
Matt Wieters (catcher) – He’s a good catcher who looked like he had finally figured it all out to start the season and has been absolutely Jeter-esque since. Wieters is an impressive defensive catcher, which should count for something. He’s probably one of the young stars of the league, so I’m kind of okay with him being on the team. But the guy getting screwed here is A.J. Pierzynski who is having quite a season batting and an above-average defensive showing. Maybe Pierzynski got snubbed because people don’t really like him. And apparently some people also don’t like winning.
Ian Kinsler (second base) – He’s a very good second baseman, but his numbers are down this year ,and there are a couple guys who have better numbers in just about every statistical measure: Ben Zobrist and Jason Kipnis. Also, Kipnis is one of the future stars of the game in addition to out-performing Kinsler in all facets of the game. But Kipnis is on the Indians, and no one really cares about Cleveland, so Ron Washington chose Kinsler instead. Oh, did I mention that Kinsler is on the Rangers?
Paul Konerko (first base) – I don’t really have a problem with his inclusion except for the fact that it shows up the exclusion of others. Konerko’s had a productive season, but having the undeserving Napoli and Andrus on the team should mean that Paul doesn’t make the cut. And not players like Josh Willingham, Edwin Encarnacion or Austin Jackson who have had some jaw-dropping numbers so far. Okay, so maybe you’ll pull the “Konerko is a bigger name.” To which I say, “Really?!?! Konerko? Paul Konerko?”
Yu Darvish (pitcher) – Darvish was a late addition to the team, and I understand adding him because of his international appeal. But that spot should have gone to the White Sox’s Jake Peavy. Fortunately for all involved, Sunday night, Peavy was added as a replacement for the Angels’ C.J. Wilson – though I should say, “former Rangers’ pitcher C.J. Wilson.” Another instance of Rangers manager Ron Washington handing out “attaboys” instead of picking worthy players. Pitchers are the hardest All-Stars to pick because the people who make the choices still think things like “most wins” is a factor. But then pitchers get left out because they “don’t have enough wins.” Oh, sorry, next time I will make my teammates score more runs when I pitch.
Jim Johnson (relief pitcher) – Every year the managers for these teams choose the guy who has the most saves. For those of you who don’t know what a save is, it’s an arbitrary statistic representing a pitcher who finishes a game (“saves” it). It was created out of boredom to help relief pitchers and their agents make more money. The fact that someone got a save doesn’t mean he did it well or with the maximum allowable damage without actually losing the game – like Jim Johnson does. He is my bet for the guy who loses this game.
Ryan Cook (relief pitcher) – This is another terrible choice. Cook may one day be an excellent relief pitcher. He is not currently. However, every team must have at least one player selected for the All-Star Game, and this is the guy because for some reason Josh Reddick and his breakout season just wasn’t good enough. Come on! This guy has 20 home runs in Oakland – that’s like a million home runs anywhere else.
National League of Their Moan
Dan Uggla (second base) – Another brilliant pick by the fans. How are there enough people who recognize his name on an All-Star ballot for him to win? Maybe fans just want to see if Uggla can do a repeat performance of his three-error All-Star game. Ironic voting? I like it. Admittedly, there aren’t that many good second basemen in the NL these days. And don’t give me that “what about Brandon Phillips, he gets all those RBIs?” garbage. I could get RBIs with that Reds lineup. Maybe Brandon should think about taking a walk every now and then. The guy who should be starting at second is Jose Altuve, who made the team as a representative of the Astros and the Lollipop Guild (Get it? Because he’s short. Whatever! Let’s see you make out-dated pop culture references!) The second baseman who got screwed here is Aaron Hill – who is having a great year and even hit for the cycle … twice.
Melky Cabrera (outfielder) – Cabrera’s numbers warrant his inclusion. Yes, he is a surprise as a starter, just like Curtis Granderson in the AL, who doesn’t have anywhere near the numbers of other outfielders. But we’re talking NL now. Melky should savor this moment. It will be his last All-Star Game. No, not because I am going to murder him. If I were going to do that, why would I write about it here? Of course, now that I have, maybe I’ve created my own alibi. Whoa! I think I just wrote Basic Instinct 3. But Melky’s exceptional stats are the perfect example of exceptional luck. And unless you think he could be the one player in the history of baseball to maintain that kind of good fortune, it’s safe to assume his numbers will collapse.
Bryan LaHair (first base) – As I mentioned before, every team needs to have at least one representative and so the Chicago Cubs have LaHair in the All-Star Game. What’s that you say? The Cubs already have Starlin Castro on the team? Oh … well … um … huh. Gosh, now that’s a brain twister. Okay, I just figured it out. It’s probably one of those things where they forgot Castro was a Cub and then took a list of current Cubs players and threw a dart at it and it hit really close to LaHair’s name. They called him to let him know he was an All-Star, and then someone noticed that Castro’s name was on the list as well, and so the Cubs were covered, but now no one wants to be the guy to call LaHair back and say it was a mistake.
David Freese (third base) – There are at least five guys with better numbers than Freese, but there’s only one number that matters here: World Series’ rings won with Tony LaRussa. Tony is the NL’s manager this year after winning the World Series last year with Freese as his third baseman. His production was impressive in that playoff run, but not nearly as much this season. Attaboy, David!
Chipper Jones (third base) – The idea that the perpetually injured Chipper Jones was selected as an injury replacement is certainly the funniest thing in baseball this year – besides Orioles fans thinking they won’t end up in last place. There are more deserving players of course, but this is supposed to be Chipper’s last season, so it’s kind of a send off. I am all for this. Chipper’s been a Hall of Famer and by all accounts is an exceptional human being.
Joel Hanrahan (relief pitcher) – Remember all that stuff I said earlier about relief pitchers and saves and all that? Well … ditto. I understand that relief pitchers are a vital part of a team, but let’s get the best ones in the All-Star Game. Why is Kenley Jansen not on this team? “He doesn’t have nearly as many saves as Hanrahan!” True. But neither does Aroldis Chapman and he’s on the team; and like Chapman, Jansen’s other numbers are out of this world.
Jonathan Papelbon (relief pitcher) – The real drama this week has been the omission of Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke and Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, both of whom are statistically number one and number five in the league. And they’re not All-Stars. But the pedestrian Papelbon is on the team despite being only the 16th best relief pitcher – though he is number one in salary. Some have speculated that LaRussa intentionally left Cueto off the team because of a beef with him from when Tony was managing the Cardinals. Greinke’s absence is also suspicious since the Brewers are a rival of the Cardinals. But sometimes having the best pitching numbers in baseball isn’t enough or a great story line like retuning to Kansas City where Greinke started his career.
Huston Street (relief pitcher) – Street has not even pitched enough innings this season to qualify for comparison to other players. But the Padres needed a representative, and LaRussa chose Street over the Padres’ very above-average third basemen Chase Headley who has 42 RBIs on the lowest scoring team in the NL, while Freese has only 51 RBIs on the highest scoring team. Boom! Research!
It’s called the “all star” game and the teams need to have stars, new and old (ish) in order to promote the sport. Obviously, there are still some adjustments needed in the selection process. That might be just as simple as not letting the managers pick their own players, since a lot of the bad picks this year come from that part of the process.
But even with the best players on the field, there’s no guarantee they’ll perform at their best. Baseball is just too random. In the end all this ranting and raving and chastising is just noise that we’ll all forget as soon as the game starts. And then we can find other stuff to complain about. I know I will.