Sunday, July 17, 2011

An All-Star Game rant, featuring Tim Hudson and Freddy Sanchez

It is July. Baseball is the focus of my sporting world. I have no choice. The NBA is locked out. Instead of free agency, summer league and the trade market to combine with my love of baseball, I have to cope with tennis, golf and...women's soccer. I am having panic attacks.

Let's put aside the fact that I'm a complete misogynist. We'll tuck that one in our back pocket for now. Now I'll say that the MLB All-Star break this year has been even more miserable than in years past. This small, three-day reprieve from professional athletics is the only time of the year that I have no choice but to focus on the other parts of my life. Needless to say, it is unpleasant having to do such a thing. I am in Hell. This may be the reason why this year especially, I am incensed with the MLB All-Star game.

Despite claims to the contrary by fantasy baseball guru Mark Schruender (keeper and founder of the fantastic Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove website - tell your friends!), the MLB All-Star game isn't the best of the professional all-star games. In fact, I think it may be the worst. And it's not even close.

All-Stars? More like bore-aphyl.

Let's begin with the premise of the game itself; "All-Star", the gravitational center in which these three days orbit. In a league full of guys that can play, an All-Star is supposed to be someone who is putting up fantastic individual numbers and also elevating his teammates with his superiority of play and transcendent skill. Year after year, baseball continually invalidates the definition of "All-Star" with its inane rules and lack of player discipline.

The NBA All-Star game roster isn't perfect. There are always snubs; guys should make the team and they don't. But I've never heard an All-Star line-up announced in February and had the same reaction that I did when I heard Kevin Correia was an All-Star. For all you NBA heads out there, Kevin Correia making the All-Star team is like Erick Dampier being an NBA All-Star. And I'm not talking about Erick Dampier in 2004. I'm talking about Erick Dampier in 2005. Still a nice year, but certainly not good enough to be an All-Star. I am not inspired. I am not awed by the stars that are exhibiting their somewhat mediocre skills for all of us to wonder what we're seeing.

I've distilled the biggest contributing factors to two root causes. One I already discussed a few days ago. Simply put, guys don't show up. In their apathy and absence, the players are telling me that this "honor" is more of a burden than anything else. How am I to think that being an All-Star is anything worth treasuring if it gets out that Aramis Ramirez would rather take the weekend off than suffer the inconvenience of being touted as one of the league's best?

But even more detrimental to baseball's All-Star game is this asinine "every team represented in the All-Star game" rule.

I just spent 10 minutes googling this, and I still couldn't find the reason why every single team in the league has to represented in the All-Star game. Out of the 4 North American sports, it's the only one where a rule like this is in place.

I know that it's an exhibition. As I've noted, in mid-July, baseball is the only game in town. The summer becomes black abyss in an otherwise crowded professional athletic calendar. All eyes are going to be on baseball, whether they care or not. Unlike a lot of other All-Star games when people in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore can concentrate on something else besides their underachieving (or perhaps in this case, their properly achieving) teams, you know that you've got a captive audience. You want everyone to care, so you take an All-Star from every team. It makes sense.

So then call it the Midsummer-Exhibition game. Or the Midsummer Break game. Or the Every-Star game. Just not "All-Star". Don't call it a game between baseball's best players. If every team is represented, that is not happening. There's never going to be a season where every team is over .500. There is no steroid that can make that mathematically possible. The odds of every team playing merely .500 ball are astronomically slim. Every single year, if every team is required to have one of their players named an All-Star, you will inevitably get players from awful teams. Not just the bad teams. Oh, they'll have an All-Star representative too. I'm talking about the AWFUL teams. The ones with 20 more losses and then wins in July ALREADY. Teams whose guys walk through supermarkets in their own towns and walk unmolested and unnoticed looking for Grey Poupon and delicious trisket crackers.

Aaron Crow (from the 37-55 Kansas City Royals) made the initial cut of the AL squad. You know who else made it? Tyler Clippard, from your 46-46 Washington Nationals. I mean, he's not Starlin Castro of the 36-58 Chicago Cubs and definitely not Gaby Sanchez of YOUR...Florida Marlins. So...there's that.

Who's Aaron Crow? Or Tyler Clippard? Who the HELL is Gaby Sanchez, and why does he have a girl's name? These are all guys that were named to the All-Star team because they HAD to have a representative. They're all having nice years, but I'm not certain they're playing on an All-Star level and doubly certain their respective teams are not playing on an All-Star level either. I don't know a lot about being a professional athlete, but I can guess that it's a hell of a lot easier pitching in Kansas City against the Twins than it is pitching for the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre every other week.

Not enough evidence yet? Let's go with this example. You know who Tim Hudson is? He's won 173 games over 13 seasons, good for 3rd most wins and 3rd best winning percentage, both amongst active pitchers. He's got the 9th best ERA of all the pitchers throwing today. He's finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting 4 times. I don't think is an unfair statement - he's one of the best pitchers of his generation. He is a 3-time All-Star.

You know who else is a 3-time All-Star? Freddy Sanchez. Freddy Sanchez is best known for being the starting second baseman on the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants, and also for having this big fat mole on his face that no media person can talk about. But I'll talk about it. It's huge and gross and on the lower right part of his face. It's gross bro. You just signed a $10 million dollar deal last year. Get that thing fixed.

Freddy made those 3 All-Star appearances when he was on the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that lost 94, 96 and 99 games, respectively. He was the initial lone Pirates All-Star all three of those years, though teammate Zach Duke was selected in 2009 as an injury replacement. Only one of those seasons did Sanchez have an OPS over league-average, where he finished 19th in MVP voting. He has never won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. Other than his part on the San Francisco Giants 2010 title team (in which he batted .270 in 15 games with a .626 OPS - for all you non-stat-heads out there...that sucks), Sanchez will go down as a footnote in history. Yet, he has as many All-Star appearances as Tim Hudson.

This is just one especially egregious offense (I might be over-exaggerating, but I really...really am disgusted with the Pittsburgh Pirates) in a long line of them. The definition of being an All-Star has been cheapened by a rule in the name of fairness. Don't tell me that this game is the best of the best. They aren't all stars in the field. This is the best of every team, not the best of the best teams.

Once the players hit the field though, it's all business, right? Those guys are playing their hearts out! Roy Halladay is throwing gas, Prince is swinging for the fences, the whole deal, right?

I am a fervent defender of the NBA. If you have an unjustified ill word against the Association, I will cut you. But even I can't defend their All-Star game. It's pretty disgraceful. No one plays defense, puts plays together or even plays hard. There's just not a lot of "playing" of anything, to be honest.

That is, until the 4th quarter.

Please watch the last quarter of any NBA All-Star game. The alley-oops stop, the behind the back passes cease and the ironic "I'm a center, but I'm going to throw up a three-pointer or bring the ball down the court, smiling like a jackass while I do it" tricks all stop. It turns into a real game. It's only an exhibition - these guys aren't supposed to be putting their body parts in danger, but they can't help it anymore. Kobe puts on his defensive shoes, Chris Paul starts calling out real plays and Kevin Garnett throws on that scowl of his (obviously I'm not serious about that last part - KG never takes off that scowl of his. Not even in the 1st quarter).

During the MLB All-Star game last week, AL Manager Ron Washington took out second baseman Robinson Cano and inserted Howie Kendrick. Howie's a nice player. I have him on one of my fantasy teams. He smiles in all of his profile photos. But there's no way that you can say they are "really competing" in the MLB All-Star game when the newly crowned HOME RUN DERBY CHAMP is getting taken out of the game. You're not trying to win a game when you remove Prince Fielder from a game after he belts a three-run bomb. I understand that the managers are trying to get all the guys in and showcase off the talent that they selected. My dad did this when I played softball in 2nd grade. Everyone got in. I don't think anyone would tell Don that he was playing to win.

The Bottom Line (Because Stone Cold Said So):

On this scorecard, there's two parts: are the players here really what you would consider "All-Stars" and how closely does the game represent an actual competitive contest?

In the NBA All-Star game, the players show up. And sometimes, but not all the time, they play to win. It's an honor to be called an All-Star and the exclusivity of the accomplishment and the attendance of the players shows that.

In the NHL All-Star game, there's no requirement that every team has to be represented. If I ever watched that game, I'd have more reflections on it. But I don't. Let's hope there's no NBA lockout next year that makes me watch this game that I've only heard happens.

In the NFL Pro Bowl, which is played at the end of the season, the best players are selected, regardless of which teams are represented. In fact, replacement players aren't officially called "Pro Bowlers". They're just replacements. Guys don't hit hard, there's no blitzing and since this is football, of course guys aren't playing full tilt.

In the MLB game? The best players aren't always taken, a lot of mediocre players are named "All-Stars", guys don't seem to care about the "honor" and the managers sometimes play to win.

Which one seems the best here? Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove, I await your rebuttal.

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