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July 13, 2004

Prospectus Today

All-Star Diary

by Joe Sheehan

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The following column was written before Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

One of my favorite columns is my All-Star Diary, where I watch the game and take notes as it happens, letting events lead me where they may. Let's see what unfolds this year...

    5:01 p.m.: The wires list the game as an 5 p.m. start. Right. My California ID says that I'm 190 pounds, too. What's weird is that in most of these situations--like the postseason--the game time is listed rather than the telecast time. In this case, they go with the air time. Regardless, there won't be any baseballs flying until 5:30, at the earliest.

    5:04 p.m.: I just lost a few minutes there, following a "Cold Pizza" flashback. I'm glad they had Will Carroll on today, but I think I'd rather watch a reality series based on the lives of BP's stathead contingent--"Last Propellerhead Standing"--than see that show again.

    5:17 p.m.:: A great moment, as Jorge Posada's son runs onto the field during the introduction of the American League reserves. While telling the heartwarming story of the boy's courage--he's had seven skull surgeries since birth--over camera shots of the adorable little boy, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver fail to mention that Jorge Jr.'s dad isn't actually on the All-Star team.

    5:25 p.m.: During introductions of the NL squad, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver speculate on the possibility that Barry Bonds has used steroids or other unlawful substances to fuel his late-career rush.

    5:29 p.m.: The National Anthem is butchered. It's a march, not a ballad.

    5:37 p.m.: We have baseball, as Roger Clemens pitches to Ichiro Suzuki. It's not a fair fight: Clemens gets Ichiro to ground to shortstop.

    I would argue that Ichiro is the worst player in either starting lineup, and after an excellent rookie season, has become one of the most overrated players in the game.

    
               AVG   OBP   SLG    SB  CS
    2001      .350  .381  .457    56  14
    Since     .318  .370  .435    86  29
    
    
    Even that OBP is inflated, as Ichiro was walked intentionally 27 times in 2002, coming off his media MVP in '01. With the recognition that he's not a true .350 hitter, and that his power is minimal, he's been IBB'd just 14 times since then. Safeco Field impacts those numbers a bit, but as his EqAs show, Ichiro is a tier down from the best right fielders in the game. He's a good defender and baserunner, and he's durable, however those things don't make up the gap between him and, for example, his outfield mates this evening.

    Of course, it's a good thing he's here, as the AL has no center fielders on its roster. He and Carl Crawford will each get some time covering the ground that their counterparts cannot. With Beltran gone to Houston, I think the best center fielder left in the AL is Dwayne Murphy.

    5:40 p.m.: Clemens walks off the mound after blowing away the next two batters, earning a huge ovation from the Houston crowd. As a Yankee fan, I'm still a little bitter about this whole thing, given how much I invested in watching Clemens' "last starts" last season. As a baseball fan, I'm both in awe of the man's abilities and appreciative of the great story his continued success is.

    5:43 p.m.: I appreciate that it's not always easy to construct an All-Star lineup, but I was a little surprised to see the guy with the worst numbers--Edgar Renteria--batting leadoff for the NL. On the other hand, Renteria has had a .500 OBP against left-handers since the start of last year, so it's just more evidence that Jack McKeon is paying attention.

    5:47 p.m.: Albert Pujols, who's having a pretty good year while being completely ignored, gets the game's first hit, a ringing double to right-center off of Mark Mulder.

    5:49 p.m.: Bonds steps in and, with first base open, reflexively begins taking off his elbow guard. He needs to call time out when he realizes that Ivan Rodriguez is in a squat and that Mulder is winding up in earnest.

    5:51 p.m.: Buck and McCarver discuss the rumor than Bonds was paid to participate in the All-Star Game, seeming more eager to get it out there than to set the record straight (Bonds wasn't paid). They do take extra care to point out that Bonds has opted out of the union, which he hasn't (just the licensing agreements).

    5:53 p.m.: Bonds flies to center field on a 2-2 pitch. Somewhere, Jim Tracy says, "they should have walked him, anyway."

    6:03 p.m.: The AL has three straight Yankees in the #5 through #7 slots, hitting, oddly enough, opposite of the way in which they hit in the Yankee batting order. Jason Giambi looks awful against Clemens; I seriously doubt he'll be in this game for more than the required three innings.

    6:22 p.m.: With first and third and two outs in the second, Moises Alou bats for Clemens.

    That the All-Star Game doesn't use the DH rule regardless of ballpark is one of the dumbest things in baseball. Whatever arguments there are for pitchers' batting--I'm not getting into that debate now--none of them apply to an exhibition in which no pitcher goes more than three innings, and ain't nobody bunting. Moreover, permanently installing the DH would a big step in avoiding the fear of running out of pitchers that has given us absurd 12-man pitching staffs--but no one who started Sunday, please--for one game.

    6:34 p.m.: The AL gets on the board off Tom Glavine, as Ivan Rodriguez drives home Ron Belliard with a double to right field.

    It's a foregone conclusion that Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer. What we're asking now is where he's going to end up on the all-time catchers list. For a long time, I ranked Mike Piazza ahead of him, but the longer Rodriguez goes without entering a decline phase, the harder he makes that argument. We have enough problems determining how good today's catchers are defensively that evaluating, say, Yogi Berra is pretty much impossible, so that's a barrier to the discussion.

    I'm comfortable with the idea that Rodriguez has established a career path that forces us to wait to evaluate him. If he continues to show otherwordly longevity, that's something else that will be in his favor as compared to Piazza, Berra, Johnny Bench and the rest of his peers.

    For now, he's just fun to watch.

    6:48 p.m.: Another Pujols double, this time off of Esteban Loaiza, again brings Bonds to the plate with the bases empty. Rodriguez flashes four fingers at Loaiza and sticks out his left arm. As the crowd erupts in a hail of boos, Rodriguez pulls down his glove hand and cracks up laughing.

    6:50 p.m.: Buck and McCarver speculate on the possibility than Bonds may be involved in efforts to disrupt one of the national political conventions later this summer.

    6:52 p.m.: Bonds pops up to short right field on a 2-0 pitch. I get the sense that there's no way he's going to take a walk tonight.

    7:01 p.m.: Alex Rodriguez gives the AL a 3-0 lead with a shot into the Crawford boxes in left field, scoring Manny Ramirez.

    7:28 p.m.: C.C. Sabathia comes into the game for the AL in the bottom of the fifth.

    See, this is how it should work. Three starting pitchers each throw two innings apiece, leaving an inning each for three relievers. Not getting into an All-Star Game shouldn't be an insult; it really is an honor to be selected, and the machinations--mid-inning pitching changes and the like--that burn through pitchers are unnecessary, other than to allow Fox to dump commercial inventory. Ten pitchers should be more than enough for any contingencies, such as pitchers getting hit hard or extra innings.

    Two other players--Hideki Matsui and Miguel Tejada--come in with Sabathia, rendering any attempts to score the game futile. Another reason to implement the DH: doing so would reduce, maybe even eliminate, the double-switches that make following the game a bit confusing.

    7:46 p.m.: About those "contingencies"...Sabathia is gone, having mixed balls and meatballs in near equal amounts. The damage? Four hits and two walks create four runs in 2/3 of an inning. Francisco Cordero comes in to mop up, getting Sammy Sosa to strike out, but the NL now leads, 4-3.

    7:59 p.m.: Randy Johnson, who has been the focus of so much media attention, goes Carl Hubbell one better by striking out all six men he faces. It's not exactly a Hall of Fame portrait, but it's still one hell of an audition tape.

    A week ago, I didn't think Johnson would leave Arizona, although my bigger point was that I didn't think anyone outside of Johnson and his nearest and dearest had any clue as to his mindset. The decision to accept a trade to a contender is one that outsiders tend to see as a no-brainer, but if you're a 40-year-old man with a family and one championship ring and a couple of years to go on a contract, and you already work in your adopted hometown, it's not that easy.

    It now appears that Johnson is willing to accept a trade, so he's going to be the story in baseball for the next few weeks. Getting to pitch tonight, being on the field and away from the questions, had to be cathartic in some ways.

    8:12 p.m.: In the bottom of the sixth, Lance Berkman brings the hometown crowd to its feet by crushing a Joe Nathan fastball into the right-field seats. Five-three, NL. I don't know Berkman at all, but I have to say that he just looks like he belongs on the short list of MLB players you'd most like to have in your circle of friends. Just a hunch.

    8:23 p.m.: Jack McKeon makes a whole host of changes to start the seventh. I'm not sure, but I think Hubie Brooks just went in at shortstop. I couldn't tell you either team's batting order at gunpoint.

    8:36 p.m.: Victor Martinez yanks a ball just fair down the right-field line off of Danny Graves, scoring Mike Young and, with some difficulty, Ken Harvey. The game is tied, and we're treated to a round of hearty enthusiasm for the home-field advantage gimmick. Because before last year, no All-Star Games ever had lead changes.

    I loathe Fox.

    8:44 p.m.: Carlos Beltran, who's played in fewer than 20 games as an Astro, makes his entry into the All-Star game as one. I'd imagine that's some kind of record.

    8:58 p.m.: Kurt Stillwell...no, wait, Carlos Guillen...hits the ninth double of the game, this one off of Armando Benitez, to score Matsui and put the AL ahead 6-5.

    I like Guillen, who is finally healthy and playing well, but if he finishes the season in the top five of the AL MVP voting, I'll wear a Tigers cap and a Guillen jersey to the winter meetings.

    9:06 p.m.: The NL is down a run in the eighth and facing Francisco Rodriguez, after which they're going to get Mariano Rivera. Then again, they have Jack Wilson, Mark Loretta and Johnny Estrada due up, and aren't matchups like this what the All-Star Game is all about?

    9:21 p.m.: As the game edges towards the four-hour mark, Bonds comes up with two outs and two runners on base. Buck and McCarver, noticing the time, excoriate Bonds for taking too many pitches, pointing out that the game would have been over a hour ago if he wasn't so patient, and that it's Bonds' fault why kids on the East Coast never get to see the end of All-Star Games.

    9:25 p.m.: Rodriguez strikes out Bonds on a 3-2 slider that is immediately sent to the Hall of Fame.

    9:31 p.m.: The commercial break ends, and the ninth begins with Bobby Abreu in left field for the NL, replacing Bonds, the lone remaining starter in the game. McCarver lambastes Bonds, pointing out that in his day, the stars wanted to play the whole nine innings.

    9:40 p.m.: Perhaps atoning for last year's misstep, Eric Gagne strikes out the side in the ninth, capping the inning by getting Hank Blalock on a three-pitch sequence in which he hit 85, 98 and 74 on the gun.

    9:50 p.m.: It's over, as Rivera puts the NL down 1-2-3 in the ninth. The AL bullpen retires the last 11 men it faces after the Berkman home run, and wins another come-from-behind game, 6-5.

    When I was a kid, I rooted for the AL in All-Star Games. I don't have much of an attachment to either side now, but I do think it's good that the AL won. Nothing will kill the All-Star/World Series connection faster than one team getting home field for three or four straight years.

    9:54 p.m.: Victor Martinez, who was 2-for-2 with the game-winning double, is named the game's MVP.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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