July 12, 2006
All-Star Game Diary
I've been spending a lot of time today thinking about the All-Star Game. It occurred to me that my most vivid memory of an ASG is from 1979, the Kingdome game when Dave Parker gunned down a runner at the plate. There have been 26 All-Star Games since that one, but the words "All-Star Game" still conjure up that one image from my eighth summer.
The fact is, the All-Star Game isn't the event it used to be. There's not a fraction of the intensity the game used to have because the two leagues are no longer distinct entities. That's by design, of course; Bud Selig has spent the better part of his reign turning the AL and NL into MLB, and whatever positives have come from that change, there can be no question that the loss of delineation, the loss of rivalry, has taken a lot of the heat out of the All-Star Game. That's reflected in how the game is run by the managers: everyone gets to play, and the best players usually yield to the benchies by the sixth inning.
There are other factors as well. I think interleague play is a major reason for the loss of luster, as it shows us the individual matchups we normally wouldn't see except for the All-Star Game. The ready availability of televised baseball has made it easy for casual fans to see all the stars in both leagues, no matter their location. The home-field-in-World-Series gimmick is a tacit acknowledgement of the game's diminished stature, while doing nothing to address the causes of its decline.
So when a player--or many players--decline the honor and the whirlwind days of travel and hoopla that come with it, I understand. They're acknowledging the true importance of the game, especially relative to the importance of the 70-odd games to come after it.
With all that said, we can have some fun tonight. There are a ton of great young players on the field, PNC Park is probably the most attractive of the toddler ballparks, and there's always the chance for one of those moments, a great catch, a monster home run, an unforgettable inning...or even a National League victory!
5:17 p.m. PDT: I think it's awesome that Scott Kazmir let his little brother suit up and take the field during introductions.
This thing isn't starting at 5:20, huh?
5:25 p.m. PDT: If I gave every sentient being in Pittsburgh the names Edgar Renteria and David Wright, and the fifth and sixth spots in a lineup, how many do you think would bat Renteria fifth and Wright sixth? Four? Five, maybe?
5:32 p.m. PDT: For a ballad rendition--and no, I'm not letting go of the idea that the national anthem is meant to performed with a quick pace--Carrie Underwood's wasn't that bad.
I assume she'll be back for "God Bless America." [sigh]...
5:38 p.m. PDT: Maybe it's too many World Cup games--which start at the appointed time, television be damned--but my tolerance for the three-minute commercial break between intros and anthem, then between anthem and jabbering, then between jabbering and (hopefully) first pitch...I mean, does anyone in MLB's office care one whit about what this is like for the people? We hear a lot about "the fan experience," which is fairly good at the park most of the time, but the last 12-15 minutes have been aggressively anti-fan, whether you're standing in the rain in Pittsburgh or watching from your couch at home.
When people complain about late nights in October, it's this crap they want to be rid of, the content-free 20-40 minutes before first pitch and the extra time between innings. I know it generates revenue, but it also turns people--and televisions--off.
This is a significant problem for the All-Star Game, actually. A manager worth his salt should be trying to have his best pitcher start on the Saturday or Sunday before the All-Star break, so he can come back Thursday or Friday. It's essentially getting an extra start. Guys can usually throw an inning if they pitch Saturday, but a Sunday starter is almost certainly unavailable. Good managerial strategy conflicts with what's best for the All-Star Game.
5:51 p.m. PDT: Penny is throwing very hard, giving us a glimpse of what life would be like if the Dodgers converted another big-boned, bearded pitcher to the closer role.
I forgot to mention this, but I think the NL wins tonight 7-3 or something.
6:10 p.m. PDT: Not that we didn't see a fair number of players pull out of the game, but it seems to me that there's still a lot of Hall of Fame-caliber talent out there. I count three certain HoFers in the AL (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez and one likely one in Vladimir Guerrero, plus a guy about whom there'll be a long fight, Ichiro Suzuki. The NL has Albert Pujols...OK, then you're down to David Wright and long shots.
6:18 p.m. PDT: They didn't just turn a David Wright profile into an ad for "24," did they?
Come on, folks...turn down the sound and fire up the e-mail...happy to provide commentary...
I just got nine e-mails, seven of which said something bad about Fox or a Fox broadcaster. I just report this stuff, folks.
No, ichiro couldn't hit more homers if he wanted to. That's just one of those things that has become a truism, with nothing to back it up. Wade Boggs' 1987 is evidence that 1987 was weird, not that he chose to hit homers for exactly one year.
Sending the runner with Albert Pujols coming up. Nice.
6:49 p.m. PDT: The comment above referred to Alfonso Soriano getting thrown out at the plate. Either Soriano or Jerry Narron made that decision, and it was wrong. A number of people wrote in, thinking I was referencing Carlos Beltran's steal of third (also dumb), to point out that Phil Garner is taking a PE-teacher approach to this one.
I don't get it. How do you make a big deal about "This Time It Counts," and then let one of the managers go on TV and basically wash his hands for the night? Either the game is critical or it isn't; the relentless mixed messages are tiring.
By the way, Phil, how's that lineup construction working out for you?
End of the fourth...I'm sorry...ceremony? What ceremony?
7:00 p.m. PDT: The fifth inning will start after 10 p.m. EDT, thanks in part to a 10-minute interruption so that Fox could get an extra commercial break during the game.
Cynical? Me? Just wait until we get some mid-inning pitching changes late in the game for no reason whatsoever.
Roberto Clemente was a terrific ballplayer and, from all that I've read, a better man. His death made the baseball world and the larger one a lesser place. I'm just not clear on why he had to be honored between innings of a game that is supposedly being played at high intensity nowadays.
7:13 p.m. PDT: By my count, five players have been used out of position in this game: David Ortiz, Freddy Sanchez, Gary Matthews Jr., Michael Young and Jason Bay. Some of those are minor, and in all cases the players have experience at the position they're playing tonight, but again, I think it's an indication of the true nature of the All-Star Game--an entertaining exhibition--rather than a sign that it's baseball at its finest.
All-Star pitching duels aren't that interesting. The All-Star Game needs runs, or at least rallies, to make it memorable.
7:26 p.m. PDT: That was a pretty nice inning by Scott Kazmir, given who he had to work through. Barry Zito also looked very good, as did Brandon Webb. I tend to dismiss All-Star performances by pitchers, because we know that good pitchers tend to get even better when they know they're only throwing an inning. It's probably not entirely fair of me.
By the way, all of the AL starters are gone.
7:33 p.m. PDT: Interesting decision by Garner, who managed to get the 12th-best pitcher on his staff into the game in the seventh inning with a one-run lead. Derrick Turnbow isn't the best Brewer (Chris Capuano) or best funky-haired righty (Bronson Arroyo) available to Garner.
It worked out, but...
It looks like the NL will end up leaving five pitchers unused, and the AL the same. The 12-pitcher rule is dumber than a "Las Vegas" plot.
7:41 p.m. PDT: Not to keep picking on Garner, but shouldn't he, of all people, know that the optimal use of Lance Berkman is against a RIGHT-handed pitcher? Sending him up to bat from the right side is a waste, outcome (walk) be damned.
Mark Redman is apparently working behind Johan Santana. Just how many AL Central left-handed pitchers is Guillen going to put into this game while not using Mark Buehrle, who he used his only discretionary pitching spot on?
That doesn't look just a little weird to anyone else?
Wow, a double play. Are they closing down the airport at 11:30 or something?
7:58 p.m. PDT: I genuinely don't know how you could watch this game and buy into any tiny fraction of the ideas that 1) the All-Star Game should "count" or 2) the game can tell you anything about the relative strength of the two leagues.
I saw spring-training games in Phoenix in the first week of March, and they had a comparable level of intensity. Since Wright's home run, this has been a sleepwalk.
I think if you add defensive innings played and at-bats, you'll find that Gary Matthews Jr. and Matt Holliday led this game in playing time. Draw your own conclusions.
One last Ozzie note: he used two of his manager's selections on Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks, then didn't put either into the game, while at the same time using the best pitcher on a division rival who started and went seven on Sunday.
I'm just saying.
8:06 p.m. PDT: Wow, that happened fast. I was doodling up P/PA for the game (very, very low numbers; this time it hacks!) and a couple of hanging splitters later, the AL had a 3-2 lead. Some good swings by Troy Glaus and Michael Young, no cheapies in there at all. Hoffman just left a couple balls up against hitters who like it there, and we're going to have a bottom of the ninth.
Keeping it tied would have helped. Now the NL has to score off of Mariano Rivera, whose career ERA on Fox is a negative number.
8:11 p.m. PDT: A couple of notes as Rivera warms up; Bronson Arroyo wasn't available instead of Turnbow, as he'd pitched already. And Wright's home run came first, the Beltran wild-pitch run second.
I wish we'd had a better game for eight innings, but I had a lot of fun doing this. Thanks to everyone who chipped in with e-mails throughout the night, and for all the support throughout the year for us at BP.
8:15 p.m. PDT: Jose Lopez' career appearances at third base: 2
Troy Glaus' career appearances at first base: 0.
This is kind of fun.
8:19 p.m. PDT: Carlos Lee is as good a matchup as you're going to get against Rivera, a right-handed hitter who makes contact and can go to right field. He just didn't get enough of it; I wonder if Beltran doesn't go on the 1-1 pitch, does Lee instead take the outside pitch he fouled off and change the at-bat?
The AL's ninth-inning rally gave this game a signature moment that it had been lacking. It will force us through another round of stories about the AL's superiority, and given the thin thread on which this game hung, that will be unfortunate. The AL may be better than the NL, but All-Star Game results don't inform that idea much.
Off to get some food...thanks for hanging out with me tonight, and let's all be strong tomorrow. Life begins anew Thursday.