MLB has been handed a golden opportunity to enliven its sagging All-Star Game, so I’m hoping they don’t follow their own precedent by finding a million excuses to turn it away.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is the hottest thing going in the sport, bursting onto the scene with just about the most spectacular first month of a career ever seen. I say “just about” because Joe DiMaggio had four more hits than Puig’s 44 in his debut month (May of 1936), but that’s pretty good company. Puig’s statistics are staggering – better than Joltin’ Joe’s, in fact: an astonishing slash line of .436/.467/.713 for an OPS of 1.180 and an OPS-plus of 227. He’s already built up a WAR of 2.1 in just 26 games, which is a feat unto itself.
The last phenom to excite the masses like this was probably Stephen Strasburg in 2010. I believe time has dimmed just what an impact Strasburg made when he was called up to the Nationals that season. He was the most hyped draft pick off all time, and one of the most scrutinized minor-leaguers, with folklore building about his 104 mph fastballs. He came up to the majors on June 8 of that year. Puig came up on June 3. Strasburg was 21, Puig is 22. In his first five starts, Strasburg struck out 48 in 31.2. innings. Each of his outings was an Event.
I advocated for Strasburg to make the NL All-Star team on the strength of that one month, a stance that elicited a good amount of ridicule (although Alex Akita had my back). How could someone make the All-Star Game based on five games? And he didn’t make it, but I still think I was right. Just like I think I was right for pushing for Kerry Wood of the Cubs to make the All-Star team in 1998, at age 21, when he came out of nowhere to strike out 20 batters against the Astros in May. He was the hottest thing going, the phenom of the day, earning comparisons to fellow Texans Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens . Wood went 8-3 before the break with 139 strikeouts in 93 innings. It was a no-brainer to put Wood on the All-Star team,giving him, and the sport, a national showcase. In retrospect I’m still stunned that the manager, Jim Leyland of the Marlins, found reasons to leave him off.
Now I think Yasiel Puig should make the All-Star team based on, yes, 101 at-bats, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if he doesn’t. Quite the opposite. The same reasons will be used to keep him off: Not enough time to prove he’s an All-Star, and besides, it would be unfair to keep off a deserving player who has been here all year.
Look, the MLB All-Star game is rapidly losing its allure, despite the efforts of Bud Selig to imbue it with meaning by pinning home-field advantage as the prize for the winning league. That hasn’t kept ratings from plummeting as the buzz surrounding the game continues to dissipate.
So why in the world would anyone want to keep out a player that fans might actually clamor to get a glimpse of? Sure, it would be a bit unorthodox to select a player with such a slender resume, but his impact has been spectacular enough to warrant special dispensation. While Puig isn’t on the fan ballot (a write-in campaign by the Dodgers is the longest of longshots), and is unlikely to be selected in the players vote, there is some discretion available to NL manager Bruce Bochy to select Puig – though he has indicated a reluctance to do so.
My other argument would be that Puig, probably more than anyone in the entire league, gives Bochy the best chance to win the game that has helped put two rings on Bochy’s finger by giving his Giants the home-field advantage. There is no hotter bat in baseball, so why not put that to use for your league – and give the fans a reason to watch in the process? Right now, an NL squad without Puig is at less than its full potential.
Here’s what I suspect may happen, and I can live with it: Puig will be put on the “Final Man” vote of five players for the last spot on the team. If so, the people will get a chance to speak on this question, and I have a pretty good feeling what they’ll say.