How could I not love the MLB All-Star Game? It is a living, breathing embodiment of the baseball diaspora. More than most anything else MLB does, the All-Star experience is about the fans. Fan voting, fan fest and programming designed to entice every type of fan, from the most casual (Derek Jeter! Celebrities playing softball!) to the most invested (Futures Game! Other things!). Throw in the fact that it falls right around my birthday every year and I treat the All-Star festivities with a guilty reverence not shared by many serious baseball fans. Is the All-Star game ridiculous? Sure. Is it still a lot of fun? Absolutely! I even occasionally (like this year) watch the Celebrity Softball Game and enjoy the hell out of that, too. With the main event playing out last night, I thought I’d pay tribute to the importance All-Star holds for me by sharing some observations from the game. I make no claim that I am the only, or even the first person to whom these mild revelations occurred.
- San Francisco’s ballot box-stuffing. There is no doubt that Giants fans stuffed the ballot boxes with a fervor unrivaled in recent memory, but guess what: it totally worked. Even though there was a more deserving player for every one of the 4 starting slots occupied by Giants – Andrew McCutchen over Melky Cabrera, David Wright over Pablo Sandoval, Yadier Molina or Carlos Ruiz over Buster Posey and R.A. Dickey over Matt Cain – it’s hard to argue with these lines:
Cabrera, Posey & Sandoval: 3 for 7, 4 R, 5 RBI, 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 BB
Cain: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 K, 0 R
- All-Star Snubs. Another hot button All-Star issue leading up to the game that more or less worked itself out. After all the griping about All-Star snubs (which happens every year and I rarely disagree – snubs are real!) , most of the players who belonged in the All-Star Game found their way there. Michael Bourn, Bryce Harper, Jake Peavy. Pretty much the only guys who didn’t make it who really should have were Zack Greinke (this year’s glaring omission), James McDonald and perhaps Johnny Cueto. Though it’s hard to argue with Cole Hamels’ performance.
- Champion Starters. Speaking of the right players being at the All-Star Game, I found this interesting: the last 2 NL and last 2 AL champions were both well represented among the starting squads. The Cardinals and Giants combined to field 6 of 10 starters (counting both pitcher and DH) and the Rangers and Yankees did as well. That’s to say nothing of which of those deserved to start.
- Doormat All-Stars. While it’s nice to see the stalwarts of recent champions represented in the All-Star Game, it’s also good to see some teams who have counted themselves among the “mandatory rep only” crowd in recent years receive more robust representation. Baltimore (2nd place, AL East) sent 3, Washington (1st place, NL East) sent 3 (4 if you count Ian Desmond) & Pittsburgh sent 2. Those 3 teams have combined to finish with a winning record 6 times (2002, 1996, 1994 Expos, 1997, 1996, 1994 Orioles) and make the playoffs exactly twice (1997, 1996 Orioles) in the nearly 20 years of the Wild Card Era (since 1994).
- Tony & Dunc’s Last Ride. As a Cardinal fan still awash in the afterglow of 2011 (but a La Russa supporter all the way back), it was good to see La Russa and Duncan together one more time in uniform. And it was fitting that Don Tony went out with a flurry of substitutions in the late innings.
- Not Happy Just to Be There. Speaking of the substitutions, I was glad to see Don Tony get nearly every NL All-Star in the game (except, once again – as in 2007 when he left Pujols on the bench in an NL loss – he held out his own guy (so to speak) in Lance Lynn…and no Huston Street). It would’ve been nice to see Ronnie Wash get Adam Dunn in there. After what Dunn went through last season, you’re really going to leave him on the bench at the end to give Wieters a 2nd PA?
- Mike Trout. Wow. In terms of degree of difficulty, Trout was the MVP of this game. He singled off of Dickey’s knuckler (batters are hitting just .200 vs. Dickey this season), then notched the first steal off Dickey in 2012. Trout then drew a walk from Aroldis Chapman on a plate appearance in which Chapman threw 4 pitches 100 mph or more and no pitch less than 98. I’m going to make a bold prediction: 2012 will not be Trout’s last All-Star Game.
- NL Superiority. The National League may not have won Interleague Play in 9 years, but in the last 5 games that have “counted” – 2010 ASG, Game 5 2010 World Series, 2011 ASG, Game 7 2011 World Series, 2012 ASG – the NL has cleaned up. Wait, make that 7: I forgot about the 2011 & 2012 Celebrity Softball Games. Pretty sure the debate about which league is superior has officially been resolved.
- Summer shoes. Love the decision by New York to go with the light colored shoes:
- Justin Verlander. Following last year’s transcendent Cy Young/MVP season, 5 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks was not exactly what America expected from the first half inning of last night’s game. I wondered, in fact, if this was the first time Verlander had ever given up 5 earned runs in one inning in his career. He has only given up 5 ER in a game once so far this season and only twice in all of 2011. He went an entire month (June 2011) where he gave up only 5 ER total in 49 innings over 6 starts. Still, last night was not the first time Verlander had allowed 5 ER in an inning. It wasn’t even the first time he had allowed 5 ER in the first inning. Here’s the list:
4/11/2010 vs. CLE, 1st Inning
9/14/2009 vs. TOR, 6th Inning
8/3/2009 vs. BAL, 1st Inning
4/12/2008 @ CHW, 8th Inning
8/26/2006 @ CLE, 5th Inning (6 ER)
4/13/2006 vs. CHW, 3rd Inning
Add to that this outing:
4/17/2009 @ SEA 5th Inning
in which Verlander allowed 5 R in an inning, but only 4 of them were earned, and Verlander isn’t an absolute stranger to the crooked number. The only other pattern that emerges is that, historically speaking, the ides of April (and thereabout) are a precarious time for Justin Verlander on the mound.
- Yadier Molina. Yadi was the one on bereavement leave, but I was bereaved as well not to see him in the All-Star Game. Sure, I enjoyed watching Beltran, Furcal, Holliday, Freese and the entire 2011 Cardinal coaching staff, but I might have traded them all for Yadi. In all seriousness, though – condolences to Mrs. Molina and her family for their loss.
- No Pujols, No Ichiro. This was the second year in a row since 2001 in which neither Albert Pujols nor Ichiro Suzuki made the All-Star team. Those two have always been linked in my mind since they debuted together in 2001 and it still doesn’t quite feel like the All-Star Game without them there.
- Buck & McCarver. There was a lot of argument (as there has been every year since 2003) about the All-Star Game “counting” and whether it should. Whether it does or not, isn’t this the perfect game for Joe Buck & Tim McCarver to call? Not that they actually did a good job (they didn’t), but considering the relative insignificance of the All-Star Game it’s the place they can do the least amount of harm. Of course, the counterargument is that the All-Star Game is a showcase of MLB’s best players and the game-calling and analysis should be first-rate as well. The counterargument is pretty compelling.
- DirecTV and no Futures Game replays. As I said in the open, I love the All-Star Game. I can enjoy the Home Run Derby and the Celebrity Softball Game, too. But no event means as much to me during the All-Star festivities as the Futures Game. I’m not a total prospect head, but I do love keeping up on the development and potential of future big leaguers. DirecTV, however, was not convinced of my devotion, so even though I set my DVR to record the game, it didn’t do it. I am still somewhat amazed – not that my DVR failed, it’s done that before on occasion – but at the impossibility of tracking down a replay of the Futures Game. MLB Network replayed the Home Run Derby…twice. They replayed the Triple A All-Star Game. I checked On Demand and MLB.TV and ESPN 3…nothing. The internet yielded nothing either. I know, hard to believe. Of course, the fact that I couldn’t watch the Futures Game amounts to a whole lot of First World Problems – it’s not the end of the world. Still, if some sports programming executive happens across this at some point, do me a favor: add in a Futures Game replay in future years…just in case.
Thanks for reading.