Sure, every sports fan has heard the adage, “There is no crying in baseball.” But with the first half of the baseball season in the books, it is time to begin the annual whine-fest for players, managers and fans who defy that famous saying. The occasion is Major League Baseball’s All-Star game and the result is, as always, controversy from the time the teams are announced until the last out in the bottom of the ninth.
When this season’s All-Star squads were announced and set to arrive in Pittsburgh, there were definitely some surprises. First of all, the youth movement of baseball’s senior circuit, the National League, was completely unexpected. Three of the nine starting position players are making their first trip to rub elbows with the best players in baseball, including two New York Mets in third basemen David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes (who later withdrew and was replaced by Cardinals shortstop David Exstein). Considering the recent success, or lack thereof, that the NL has endured over the past nine midseason classics, some new blood could help them end their streak of nine straight losing or tying results.
One implication of the NL roster being filled with up-and-coming talent is that many of the game’s greatest players have been left off the team. Future Hall of Fame talents Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Clemens are just a few of the older players who will be watching the game from the comfort of their own homes. But unlike previous seasons where omitting these players would be snubs, they are all simply underachieving in 2006.
While Griffey and Bonds have enjoyed less-than-stellar seasons and both appear to be past their prime, Clemens has an excuse for missing the All-Star festivities. The 43-year-old Clemens, who is playing in his 22nd season, decided in late May to complete another season on the mound. Clemens’ four starts have been mediocre at best and do not deserve a spot for him in Pittsburgh
The more significant story is that Bonds and Griffey didn’t receive their annual invitations. In the long run this will be much better for the baseball community. Players that expect to make an All-Star roster simply because of their reputation or brilliance in previous seasons are unreasonable. The All-Star game is supposed to assemble the best two squads for one night and a requirement for the best possible squad is the best players. In past seasons these two players in particular, along with many others, have strolled out onto the field on the night of the game like they actually deserved it, when they were really hitting well under .300 and lacking in both home runs and RBIs. This year the fans and the players made the right decision by leaving out some of the older, less capable players and inserting some young, exciting talent.
On the American League side the roster is the exact opposite of the National League. Where the NL brings youth to the table, the AL brings experience and longevity. Three of the starting position players are in double digits for number of appearances, with Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez making his 13th appearance behind the plate, and a couple of bitter rivals in Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez both being selected for the 10th time. However, the Red Sox’ clown will be unable to participate due to an ailing knee. In addition, Rodriguez’s flame-throwing teammate from the Bronx with nasty stuff, Mariana Rivera, will be making his eighth appearance for the AL.
The selection that has probably caused the most grunts, cries and confusion this season is Royals’ pitcher Mark Redmond’s selection over pitchers with much better records and statistics. There are numerous pitchers that deserved to play much more than Redmond and his paltry six wins and bloated 5.27 ERA.
Two Boston Red Sox pitchers, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, top the list of respectable starters that should have been given the opportunity to suit up for the AL with 11 and 10 wins respectively at the break. Yankees’ starter Mike Mussina is another pitcher that was snubbed and should have been on the team in place of Redmond, with nine wins and a 3.17 ERA. And how about Twins’ young gun Francisco Liriano and his impressive 10 wins and microscopic 1.87 ERA? He may have the best stuff in the AL and he was conveniently left off the original team. Thankfully, Liriano is now replacing the White Sox ace Jose Contreras in the AL rotation.
As I have just demonstrated, it is fairly easy to complain and whine about the players that should have made it and those who should not have. But what should really be done is baseball should reconsider the selection process, even if that means revising tradition.
The first step is removing the every-team-represented rule, which unjustly and undeservedly forces some players onto the squads just so every team will have a representative. This is exactly why Redmond will be wearing an official AL All-Star jersey and others like Schilling and Beckett will not. An All-Star game should include the best players. That is how it is in every other major professional sport, but oftentimes in MLB some of the best players do not participate. This would be comparable to leaving Tom Brady off the Pro Bowl team in favor of another player because that team didn’t have a representative. That would be an outrage among Patriot and NFL fans in general because if Brady is one of the top three quarterbacks he should play.
As the lights turn off in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park the stars will be in the sky, but the real question that concerns fans is whether the right stars will have been on the field.