Ranting and raving about the All-Star Game … again

 

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Felix Hernandez throws his hands up in the air during warmups.
We agree with King Felix — what’s the deal with all the mediocre players at the All-Star Game? (William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)

Well, gosh darn it, we had ourselves another “The Magical Good Time Super-Fantastic Mid-Summer Baseball Classic™” – which some people still call the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

As is the tradition when the first half of the season comes to an end, we celebrated in grand style by inviting the best players in the game to play an exhibition game designed to establish home-field advantage in the World Series.

Or maybe we invited the best players in the game to play an exhibition game designed to acknowledge the top performers of the year.

Or maybe we invited the best players in the game and a few other guys to play an exhibition game designed almost exclusively to entertain the masses, but also happens to reward top performers from this year, fan favorites and, almost insignificantly, decides the home-field advantage for the World Series.

This year, like every year before, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion among the fans, players and the media about exactly who should be playing in the All-Star Game. And some of these people get pretty worked up about who shouldn’t be playing in the All-Star Game.

“It should be the best players!” someone will holler. Great. Now just define “best” for us in a way on which we can all agree and we’re all set. Not so easy, right? Some might want the best “hitters” and some might want the best “baseball players.” Chris Davis and Mike Trout are two of the best this year. But Davis’ one-dimensional game is the Channing Tatum to Trout’s all-around Christian Bale.

“Let’s just use stats!” someone else will holler. Great. Now just tell us all which stats – and keep in mind that currently there is a huge divide in the baseball world about which stats most accurately represent player value. Some people think stats with funny names like WAR, FIP and BABIP are the way to go. While others cling to the old-timey stats like batting average, runs and RBIs and steam engines, gas lamps and bloodletting.

“Well, then what, Jed? This isn’t some sort of popularity contest!” another someone else will holler. Actually, it kind of is. Why do you think this game was created in the first place? To “reward” the players? Does that sound like old-school baseball owners logic? If they wanted to reward them for a half-season well done, they’d hand out ribbons and get back to the season.

The purpose of this game is to bring in fans. And no, not baseball fans. Those people are already paying customers. That’s why they’re called “baseball fans.” This game is supposed to attract new fans.

“But what about the World Series home-field advantage? Ha ha! Gotcha, Jed!” someone else is surely hollering at their screen right now. Well, I can tell you the dispute over who goes and doesn’t go predates the change to making the game “count.” Also, the home-field advantage hasn’t really been a factor since its inception – with the exception of the Cardinals-Rangers series that St. Louis won at home, but one could argue that Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz’s defense and manager Ron Washington’s ineptitude were the real advantages that St. Louis had.

The truth about the All-Star Game is it doesn’t really matter who plays, because this is baseball – the sport where David Eckstein can be a World Series MVP and where a nearly crippled Cal Ripken, Jr. could play in an All-Star Game in his last year and hit a home run and win game MVP.

It’s hard to imagine with 35 guys on each squad there are still guys who get overlooked for the All-Star Game. And with the injury replacements, those numbers go up even further. And there are still worthy players left out.

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.

Even though I am certainly lazier than all of these players and coaches in every other aspect of my life, when it comes to All-Star selections, I can will myself into action. And maybe it’s kind of dumb to still be complaining about an exhibition game that is over and no one cares about.

Well, that’s what I’m here for – to care about the things that no one cares about, because if I don’t, then no one will. So, I present this year’s list of All-Star selection gaffs.

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).

Manny Machado is worthy of All-Stardom. J.J. Hardy? Not so much. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Manny Machado is worthy of All-Stardom. J.J. Hardy? Not so much. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

American League of Un-extraordinary Gentlemen

J.J. Hardy, SS, Baltimore Orioles – This one is really the fault of the fans. He is the All-Star team’s starter. Admittedly, the shortstop position is thin these days, but Baltimore fans went bananas this year and pushed hard to get their mediocre players onto the team. Hardy has plenty of home runs, but he also has a horrifying on-base percentage, which means the thing he’s done best so far this season is give the other team outs.

Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles – Mediocre Orioles player number two. By the more advanced statistical measures, Jones is the 11th best outfielder in the AL. But the fans voted him in as a starter. He’s another player with a bad on-base percentage. What’s with these Baltimore hitters? Not even the folks at Overeaters Anonymous are this reluctant to take walks.

Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers – How can a subpar fielding, poor base-running, low on-base player make the All-Star team? Home runs! Cruz has a bunch of them and almost nothing else. Chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball. Home runs are the shiny objects that simple-minded folks are easily distracted by.

Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit Tigers – Maybe one of the worst selections this year. But … and it’s a big, Prince Fielder-sized “but” … everybody loves Torii. They say he’s got an infectious personality, but that has metastasized to his skills with tragic results.

Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City – This is one of those guys who makes the All-Star team because every major league team has to have one representative. So, instead of the Indians’ Carlos Santana who is a budding superstar with superior numbers, we are stuck with Salvador. When will the atrocities against Indians end in this country? And why do I even care so much about this when they are just randomly grabbing names out of their buttholes?

Ben Zobrist, Utility, Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays need to have a player on the team and, for some reason known only to Jim Leyland, he chose Zobrist over the superior-in-every-aspect-of-the-game Evan Longoria. Maybe Leyland just wasn’t a Desperate Housewives fan or maybe he thought Tony Parker got a bad wrap. Or maybe he thought there just wasn’t any room for the glut of excellent American League third basemen like Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson because he needed to make way for …

… 15 pitchers!

Hisashi Iwakuma, Starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners – Hey, I’m all for giving a little leeway to international players to add extra international appeal to our fun little exhibition game. But there are 11 better starting pitchers in the AL than Iwakuma – specifically there’s James Shields who is a lot better and would also have handled the Royals player requirement. I’m sure an old smoker like Leyland understands exactly how dominoes work.

Justin Verlander, Starting pitcher, Detroit Tigers – Verlander is one of the elite stars of the game, and if we’re picking guys based on past performance and star-power, then put him on the team every year. But it’s been a down year for him – however, he pitches for Leyland in real-life, so he’d have to be having a really terrible year to not make the squad.

Justin Masterson, Starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians – The simplest reason to explain the inclusion of Masterson is to make the Verlander pick not the worst choice. Masterson has been pretty darn good, but this feels a lot like another pick done to fill out the Indians’ team requirement, which could have been handled by picking Santana at catcher and Shields at pitcher. Dominoes!

Brett Cecil, Relief pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays – As I mentioned before, Jim Leyland picked 15 pitchers for the team this year. There are nine innings in a game. That works out to almost two pitcher per inning and a five-hour game. Can Leyland even go that long without a cigarette? Oh, and many of them are relief pitchers. Almost all relief pitchers are failed starting pitchers. So, when we start talking about the “best” pitchers in the league, you’ve got to go through a ton of starting pitchers before you come across relief pitchers. They’re the “best actors” at a community theater or in porn.

Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain, Steve Delabar, Relief pitchers, Various teams – See previous complaint.

Marco Scutaro snaps pictures during the All-Star Game festivities.
Marco Scutaro snaps pics to prove he was at the All-Star Game. (Andy Kuno/SF Giants)

National League of Their Moan

Marco Scutaro, 2B, San Francisco Giants – The National League was much less egregious than the American League this year. But Scutaro is the worst pick of the entire All-Star Game. He’s a mediocre player being given an All-Star appearance for his performance in the World Series last year. He plays for manager Bruce Bochy and he’s bumping more deserving players like Chase Utley and Jedd Gyorko. Yes, of course I’m pissed because it would have been the first “Jed” in the All-Star game – even if he does spell it wrong.

Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres – Given the proper amount of playing time, this spot would surely have been the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez, but the guy getting burned here is Ian Desmond who’s actually having the best year of all shortstops. I’m not sure why those Washington fans weren’t taking action like their neighbors in Baltimore. Typical D.C.: The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is stuffing into the ballot box.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates – Yay, home runs! But what if the player is below average at defense and is more allergic to walks than hipsters are to gluten? Who cares? Home runs are sweet. It’s interesting to note the absence of Chase Headley at this position. Last year, he was a legitimate MVP candidate. This year, he is a legitimate mess. The real guy for this spot, instead of Alvarez, is the better all-around player Ryan Zimmerman – so I guess not all Zimmermans are getting off easy this week.

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies – I have no idea how Brown is getting to the game, but I can assure he won’t be walking. See, because when he’s batting, he doesn’t ever walk, and then I was trying to do a thing where it’s like … oh, never mind. Give me walk machine Shin-Soo Choo out there, just please not in center field – only a moron would let him play that position (See: Dusty Baker)

Jeff Locke, Starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates – This is the luckiest pitcher in baseball right now. Almost every “peripheral” statistic he has is exceeding those of the greatest pitchers in the history of ever. So, he’s either that absolute best pitcher that’s played the game, and he’ll keep getting these great numbers, or he’s a pretty good pitcher whose luck is about to run out. And if we’re talking All-Stars, I’m not particularly interested in some no-name guy whose been skating by on historically good luck.

It’s called the “all-star” game and the teams need to have stars, new and old (ish) in order to promote the sport. I don’t know how to fix the system, but it seems like the biggest culprits are not just the voters but the players and managers who can’t stop picking guys who are in no way “fan favorites” or “statistically superior” or “even remotely good.”

The National League lost 3-0 to the American League and probably the result of the game wouldn’t really be much different if you changed a few players here and there.

So, in the end, all this ranting and raving is just noise – thoughtful, humorous noise – that we’ve already begun to forget. Which is good. Now we can find other stuff to complain about.

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