Monday, July 5, 2010

Relax, It's Only the All-Star Game

By Ross Newhan

    For almost 50 years of covering baseball I have tried not to become too emotional about the All-Star selections. Whether fans vote or players vote or managers vote--or all three as in the quixotic current process--there are bound to be questionable omissions or inclusions of varying degrees. You can continue raising roster sizes, now 34 as Commissioner Bud Selig has in trying to avoid arguments and snubs, but when you require at least one player from every team, some deserving player on another team is certain to be left out. All of that is why it is strictly an attractive exhibition that should not be employed to determine home field advantage in the World Series, an overreation to the 2002 tie.

    The team with the best record should get home field advantage, even if it means MLB has to make hotel and other reservations in two or three cities, and, when it comes to the All-Star game, the best bet is simply to take a xanex, lay down, and accept the selections for what they are, and, for the most part, not always a true reflection of first half performance.

     However, there are a few topics getting hammered in print and on those mind-numbing talk shows that are probably worth a comment or two.

     --Stephen Strasburg:  Nothing else coming out of gridlocked Washington is worth talking about, so the endless focus has been on the Nationals' flame throwing right hander of whom some are saying should even be the National League's starting pitcher. Yes, Strasburg inflates interest and attendance with his remarkable strikeout totals, but after only a month in the big leagues and a half dozen starts (not all of which have been that overwhelming or impressive), there has to be some limit or guidline to the selections. At 21, staying healthy, Strasburg has a long career of All-Star appearances ahead of him. It just should not start now.

    --Joey Votto, Joey Votto:  You would think that the Cincinnati first baseman was the second coming of Lou Gehrig or Albert Pujols. What he has been, in leading the Reds to a division lead with a series of walk off home runs and the NL's highest OPS (.988), is a legitimate MPV candidate (along with the omnipresent Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez) and a clutch performer who should have been selected ahead of Ryan Howard as the league's third first baseman by the partisan Philadelphia and NL manager Charlie Manuel. Instead, Votto is one of the five candidates for the 34th and last spot being determined by internet voting. I would speculate that if he misses there, an injury will still get him on the team (perhaps replacing Jayson Heyward?).

      --All Those Yankees and Red Sox: They have been the two best teams in baseball's best division, and it is generally difficult to argue with the fact that each received six selections, a total already reduced by injuries. Just pretend you are watching a game of the week telecast Saturday afternoon on Fox or Sunday night on ESPN. It is the way it is in the Eastern dominated media and voting markets and you have to ask: How in the world did the Angels and Kansas City squeeze in last Sunday night?

      --Jered Weaver: The major league strikeout leader has a right to be insulted. It doesn't matter if he is scheduled to pitch Sunday or not (which eliminates him from pitching in the All-Star game). He deserved the recognition of being selected, as did Andy Pettitte, bypassed by his own manager, Joe Girardi.  It came down to the White Sox needing a representative, so modestly successful reliever Matt Thornton was picked ahead of Weaver and Pettitte, although Girardi is playing a game with Pettitte. The Yankee manager named C.C. Sabathia, knowing Sabathia is going to start Sunday and can't pitch in the All-Star game. He will then replace him with Pettitte, and thus honor both of his Yankee hurlers.

     --No Padre Pitcher? The team with the best record in baseball is represented only by Gonzalez. The team with arguably the best pitching has no pitching representation, although closer Heath Bell is one of the five internet candidates for the 34th and final spot. Again, as in the case of Thornton in the AL, Pitttsburgh required a player, so set up man Evan Meek (not totally undeserved), was selected ahead of Bell, set up man Luke Gregerson or starter Matt Latos. Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune raised an interesting point, however, in his Monday column. Sullivan wrote that aside from Gonzalez, the Padres, especially on the mound, are something of an ensemble cast, and it's actually a compliment that the staff was viewed as a whole without one pitcher signalled out. Some merit to that, but Bell's overall line as closer is hard to ignore.

    --Refreshing: It has been a couple years now since the steroid cloud followed Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa into the National League outfield, but for fans to vote in a young trio of Ryan Braun, Andre Either and Heyward is definitely turning a page and putting a sad and dark era further in the past.   

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