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July 7, 2003
The Mid-Summer Classic
The All-Star teams were named yesterday, announced all at once as part of the new system of choosing the teams in which the players select about half the roster.
It makes for a different kind of analysis, because where in the past the disputes were with the managers and league offices, those entities have been reduced to little more than the job of filling token slots for bad teams and replacing injured players.
No, the interesting picks this year were by the players, who in their first contribution to the process in my lifetime proved themselves to be short-sighted as to the definition of "All-Star" as the people outside the game.
Let's start from the beginning. The fans selected the following players:
It's hard to argue with many of these. The fans, in almost every case, elected one of the top two guys at each position. Maybe not the player having a top-two first half, but players who fit the historical mold of an All-Star. The exceptions include Hideki Matsui, who benefited from a strong Internet vote, much of which presumably came from his native Japan. Two Braves starters--Javy Lopez and Marcus Giles--were helped by a combination of factors including hot first halves, significant television exposure, and injuries to the top player at their positions (Mike Piazza and Jeff Kent, respectively).
The players selected one player at each position and eight pitchers (five starters, three relievers in each league). While not a rule, in this year it turned out that where the players made the same choice as the fans, the No. 2 man in the player voting made the team. These are noted below by their ranking in the player vote.
C Ramon Hernandez (2)
C Paul Lo Duca (2)
As you can see, the player voting listed heavily towards guys having the best half-seasons, regardless of their work coming into 2003. Missing any time to injury was the kiss of death, as perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa, Piazza and Jeff Kent, just to name a few, discovered.
The player voting almost exactly mirrors the way All-Star benches and pitching staffs have been selected in the past by the managers, a process that has unduly weighed three good months against years of information. I'm terribly disappointed by this, because I believe it further detracts from a Midsummer Classic that has taken hit after hit over the past few years. The game has moved inexorably from an All-Star Game to an "Some-Star and Guys Who Got Hot at the Right Time" game.
There's an argument that the All-Star Game should showcase the game's great young talent, and that players shouldn't be All-Stars in 2003 just because they were in 2001. I agree with the notion, and I don't believe it's necessarily at odds with my vision of an All-Star Game. I just don't see where the player voting reflects that; all it reflects is who played well in April and May of 2003.
With two players at each position, and 24 and 26 roster spots filled, respectively, there weren't many decisions left for Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker. Scioscia added five players to his roster, three of whom were the token players from their teams: Dmitri Young, C.C. Sabathia and Lance Carter. To fill out his mandatory 12-man pitching staff--a silly rule added after last year's fiasco--he added Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Mike MacDougal.
The only pick I have a real problem with is Carter, who isn't the most deserving Devil Ray by far; that would be Aubrey Huff, or even Rocco Baldelli if you want to make the marketable young stars argument. Any number of pitchers could have taken Carter's place, including Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, with Mike MacDougal also losing his roster spot. Unfortunately, that would have left Scioscia with just 11 pitchers, and that's not enough for one game. Blame 350 Park Avenue for this one.
With more room to play with, Baker made more mistakes. He made four reasonable "token" picks: Rondell White, Luis Gonzalez, Armando Benitez and Randy Wolf. From the Reds, Baker selected Aaron Boone instead of Austin Kearns or Jose Guillen, most likely because he wanted one more infielder. Kearns, a rising star in the game, would have been a better choice. He also added Russ Ortiz to the team, a bizarre decision that seems rooted in loyalty to a player Baker managed in San Francisco. To replace the injured Shawn Chacon, Baker added Kerry Wood, who had finished sixth in the player voting at starting pitcher.
The most glaring omission on the NL staff would appear to be Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins rookie who is off to an 8-1 start this season, with a 2.13 ERA. I was prepared to concede to Baker on this point, because I thought Willis was set to start next Sunday against the Expos. With the memory of last summer's embarrassment fresh in mind, it appears to me that the most desirable characteristic in starting pitchers named to the All-Star team is their availability, and a Sunday start often precludes an appearance in Tuesday's game.
However, the Marlins are off on Thursday, so Willis' last start before the break should be Tuesday in Chicago. Additionally, in an interview on ESPN, Baker indicated that his decision wasn't based on Willis pitching next Sunday, but on the fact that he hadn't seen him yet. I don't entirely know what to make of this, unless Baker perhaps believes that Willis doesn't actually exist, because he hasn't seen him yet. Choosing Russ Ortiz over Dontrelle Willis is hard to justify on any level.
Having seen the new process up close, it appears to me that the biggest problem is mandating 12 pitchers per team. That's far too many, and it leads to silly things like Lance Carter over Aubrey Huff and Mike Williams over Brian Giles. This rule stems from a misunderstanding of what happened in Milwaukee a year ago: there were plenty of pitchers available, they were just managed poorly. Taking it back a step, the problem can be traced to the devaluation of the All-Star Game brought on by interleague play, which led to the game being managed like T-ball.
Beyond that, there's virtually no difference between the player vote and the manager selections we had in the past: they're both far too informed by the performance in the current season, and we've merely traded one problem--managers favoring their own players--for another--players voting for the best--networked or most popular among them. (For one thing, it appears that player reps such as Vernon Wells, Mike Lowell and Paul Lo Duca did better in the player balloting than you might have expected.)
Whatever bounce MLB and Fox think they may have gotten by adding a gimmick to the All-Star Game has been more than lost by the 62 players so far named to play in it. The players on the field next week won't be the cream of the crop, but rather a cross-section of the top players in the game and a number of others who don't bring much to the table beyond a well-timed hot streak.
The game needs its best and most popular players on display, and it won't have that. Maybe it counts this time, but it'd count for more if Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez were there.