MLB Makes an All-Star Error

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

For as long as I can remember fans have debated how professional sports’ all-star teams were selected. The options: Its entertainment so let the fans decide; its competition so let the players and coaches decide; compromise and try to rid the process of bias and let the media decide.

Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less how the all-stars were picked until 2003. That’s when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game started to matter because the winning league was given the extra home game in the World Series.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig convinced team owners to approve the change after he was hammered with criticism after he called the 2002 All-Star Game after 11 innings and the score tied 7-7. His critics screamed from every corner of baseball. How could Selig allow such a travesty? There’s no crying in baseball, nor are there ties in baseball.

I happened to agree with Selig at the time. Both teams had deleted their pitching staffs. Is it really an “all-star game” if a second baseman is summoned to the mound?

But I disagreed with Selig’s solution: Push for the game determining the home field advantage in the World Series. All-Star games should be exhibitions. They should showcase their sports and their stars.

For the record, I’m not a Selig basher. It’s difficult to name a major sports league commissioner more criticized than Selig, named to the post by a unanimous vote of the owners in 1998. Admittedly, the 77-year-old Selig has never looked the part. Think Don Knotts, who played deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show”, playing the role of Matt Dillion of “Gunsmoke” fame. Doesn’t fit, does it? Not even close.

But looks can be deceiving and that’s certainly the case with Selig. In truth, he has been a strong commissioner. Under his watch MLB has had no labor problems, quite an accomplishment when you consider the labor troubles in the 70s, 80s and 90s that came to a head in ’94 when a work stoppage cancelled the World Series.

Under Selig, MLB added an extra tier of playoff games, interleague play, some revenue sharing in a sport of “haves” and have-nots” and successfully tackled a major performance-enhancing drug culture.

Maybe Selig doesn’t deserve two thumbs up but clearly he deserves one. Make that 1.5.

Now, getting back to how all-star teams are selected, I do care how the MLB teams are picked. The fans have to be eliminated for obvious reasons. The players should be eliminated because, quite frankly, most have no idea what other players are doing. It is a selfish business. Players think about themselves first, their team second and there is no third. Input from managers/coaches should be factored in, but, again, too many truly don’t keep up with what’s going around them.

Let the media decide. Yeah, I hear the screams from the fans, players and coaches. What do the media know? If you can’t play you talk and write about your sports. I’m not suggesting the media is without bias, but I guarantee you the media have less bias than players and coaches. And the media is better informed about all that is going on around the leagues.

With the All-Star game two weeks away (July 12), the current system is clearly flawed. Current fan voting in the American League reflects the advantage of playing for the Red Sox and Yankees. As the voting now stands, there’s one major glaring error: Derek Jeter of New York is leading the race for starting shortstop. Perhaps Jeter’s leg injury will keep him out of the game and eliminate the problem.

Admittedly, the AL isn’t loaded with all-star caliber shortstops, but Jeter clearly is on the decline. Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera is without question the league’s best shortstop this season and deserves to start. Another Yankee, Russell Martin, is the leading vote-getter at catcher, but Detroit’s Alex Avila is having the best season by far.

Popularity is without question why Texas’ Josh Hamilton is the third-leading vote-getter among outfielders. Hamilton has missed much of the season because of injury. He could be overtaken by Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury. If you check the numbers you’ll see Paul Konerko of the White Sox deserves to start alongside Yankee Curtis Granderson and Toronto’s Jose Bautista.

There are no glaring mistakes in the NL voting although Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder is having a great season, far better than St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, the two leading vote-getters among first baseman. This error has partially corrected itself with Pujols out with an arm injury until at least mid-August.

Obviously most deserving players will be named to the teams as reserves by managers, but that doesn’t totally solve the problem.

Because the game does matter now some of the rules need to be changed. Not every team has a player who deserves to be an all-star so drop the rule that says every team must be represented. Drop the rule that says starters must play at least three innings. Managers also should worry less about playing everyone. These were solid rules when the game was an exhibition. In those days, I had no problem watching a 40something-year-old Willie Mays step into the batter’s box. Not now.

The best players should be in the lineup. The managers should manage to win, not to work everyone into the game. I realize this would hurt the All-Star Game. More players would opt out if they thought there was a good chance they’d ride the bench for the entire game. Players are easily embarrassed and, besides, it doesn’t help at contract time to be the guy who didn’t get in the game.

And that leads me back to where I started. Return the All-Star Game to an exhibition. Showcase the over-the-hill superstars and the fans’ favorite players. Add more players to the roster and limit everyone to three innings. Let the fans stuff the ballot boxes.

And if the game is tied after nine innings? So what?

Bud, you shouldn’t have been so sensitive in 2002.

 

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