I’ve always been a big believer in making the All-Star Game as fun and exciting for fans as possible. If that means that a past-his-prime superstar, such as Derek Jeter, gets elected by the fans, so be it. Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta obviously has dramatically better numbers than Jeter, but no one except perhaps his family and die-hard Tigers fans are going to bemoan the absence of Jhonny Peralta from the All-Star Game, whereas a lot of people will be happy to see Derek Jeter, who is on the doorstep of 3,000 hits. There’s something to be said for a body of work in an event that is still largely an exhibition. (I know it’s for home-field advantage, but a few nostalgia picks aren’t going to make a major impact in the competitive aspect of the game).
On the other extreme, I’ve always believed that another key element in making the game fun and exciting is showcasing the new stud on the block. Who can forget the stir caused by Mark Fidrych in 1976 when he burst onto the scene, talking to baseballs and mowing down opponents. The Bird wound up starting the All-Star Game for the American League in Philadelphia that year, and it was a huge spectacle.
It’s why I advocated, to some criticism, putting Stephen Strasburg on last year’s All-Star despite his minimal innings at the time. I just felt that he was the most hyped rookie in memory, he had been dominant in his short time in the majors, and fans would love to see him facing hitters like A-Rod, Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista. The National League decision-makers didn’t feel the same way — and neither did Strasburg, for that matter. He said he would have been uncomfortable making the team with such a slim resume, and I fully understand that. But I still think it would have been good for baseball to have him there (though if he had pitched, people probably would have blamed the extra work for contributing to his subsequent elbow injury).
In 1998, National League manager Jim Leyland received considerable criticism — fully deserved, in my opinion — for leaving Cubs rookie Kerry Wood off the All-Star team. Wood was a phenom in his own right, striking out 20 Astros in a game in May and being hailed as the next Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. He was 8-3 with a 3.37 ERA (in a season of offensive explosion, don’t forget — it was the year Mark McGwire would hit 70 homers and Sammy Sosa 66 — with 139 strikeouts in 93 innings at the time the teams were chosen.
But Leyland, managing the NL by virtue of winning the World Series the previous year with Florida, used a computer formula to pick his pitchers. According to an Associated Press story, the computer took into account wins, losses, ERA, wins against teams over .500, quality starts, games with averaging more than one strikeout per inning and games averaging less than one hit per inning. When he crunched the numbers, Wood came out tied for 11th, so Leyland left him off.
“I did not consider the marketing aspect,” Leyland said at the time. “I tried to pick the guys I thought were most deserving, and that’s what I did.”
But there’s nothing wrong with a little marketing at a time MLB is fighting to make up the ground it has lost to the NFL. I discussed the Wood situation as it related to Strasburg in a blog post one year ago. Leyland should have stepped away from his computer program and put the one guy everyone wanted to see on his team.
That brings us to Michael Pineda, who was left off the American League All-Star team Sunday despite his glittering numbers (7-5, 2.65 ERA, 102 innings, 73 hits, .198 opponents average, 99 strikeouts, 32 walks). Pineda hasn’t caused quite the national stir of Fidrych, Wood or Strasburg, but blame that on the fact he plays for the Mariners, who have fallen from the forefront of MLB teams. Those who are paying attention realize that Pineda is a true phenomenon, and he’s photogenic, too — a huge man throwing high heat always play well. The All-Star Game would have been a nice showcase for an emerging MLB star.
Ron Washington, the AL manager from Texas, had five pitchers selected for him by virtue of a vote of the players: Justin Verlander, James Shields, Josh Beckett, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez. Three relievers came from the Player Ballot: Mariano Rivera, Chris Perez and Brandon League.
That left Washington with five spots to fill out his standard 13-man staff. One went to Gio Gonzalez, the obvious chose as the lone Athletic on the squad. Two went to relievers: Aaron Crow (the lone Royal) and Jose Valverde (no argument there).
Washington thus had two starting spots to fill at his discretion. He said he wanted some lefties on his staff, so he went with C.J. Wilson from his own team and David Price from the Rays. Pineda had better credentials than either of them — and also better than snubbed lefty C.C. Sabathia. of the Yankees. Washington said that Wilson’s past experience as a short reliever makes him valuable in an All-Star setting. Whatever. Washington earned the right for nepotism by winning the AL pennant. It’s a time-honored All-Star tradition. Maybe one day Eric Wedge will have the opportunity to err on the side of Mariners.
It’s hard to get too worked up about a team like the Mariners, losers of 101 in two of the last three years and under .500 at the time of the All-Star picks, being slighted when they had two All-Star picks in League and Hernandez. But if Pineda winds up in the All-Star Game as a replacement for one of several pitchers scheduled to throw on Sunday, and thus ineligible to participate, I think MLB will be the better for it.
(Photo by Associated Press)