A couple of weeks ago, we had the annual rite of summer in baseball, complaining about how the All-Star game rosters are selected. Sometimes, the rosters pick themselves. The guy who’s having the best season is also the guy who’s been the best at his position for the past few years and he’s also the most beloved player in the league.
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Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.
By the end of the season my Out-Of-Nowhere All-Stars may look more like Small-Sample-Size All-Stars or Impending-Regression All-Stars, but such is life evaluating players based on the first half. My goal here is pretty simple: Identify the players at each position with the best first halves and the lowest expectations. That’s admittedly subjective and leaves out some actual All-Stars who surprised, but my focus is on role players, waiver claims, journeymen, non-prospects, trade throw-ins, and after-thoughts doing great work for the first time.
Imagining an All-Star game that was For The Win, not for the special interest groups (and fans).
Baseball would like you to care about the outcome of its midsummer All-Star game, because watching baseball that doesn’t count is like eating food by going “numnumnum” while pretending to stuff your face with the Play-Doh hot dog that a child handed to you. The obstacle to this is the way the game is, by tradition, played: Not remotely in the style of a team interested in winning.
So the premise of this article is to imagine a fantastical world where This Time It Really Actually Counts, i.e. the losing manager gets dropped off a pier. Rian Watt will be managing the NL team; I, Sam Miller, will be managing the AL team. (Meg Rowley will pass judgment on us both at the bottom.) There are no rules or limitations imposed on us, except a) those of baseball at large (e.g. no spitballs, no axe attacks), b) common sense pragmatism (e.g. no threatening to drop your players off a pier as motivational tactic), and c) every major-league team must be represented by at least one player on the roster. Everything else is the manager’s call. Here are our strategies, which were written with no knowledge of the other manager’s strategies—and, because of the demands of our publication schedule, no knowledge of Clayton Kershaw's disabledness.
One of the prospect team's most recent hires examines what he has learned.
A long time ago, my father told me, “Son, be the dumbest guy in the room, maybe you’ll learn something.” That message has always stuck with me, and I try to apply it to baseball as often as possible. Whether I’m sitting next to scouts at a minor-league game, or working with the rest of the prospect team here at Baseball Prospectus, I’m always learning and adapting.
Putting the focus on the focus on Jeter, and other All-Star observations.
One of our writers, Craig Goldstein, had an idea for the All-Star game that we didn’t get to, though I thought it had some merit: Which All-Star games have “belonged” to which players? Last year’s “belonged” to Mariano Rivera, for instance. Cal Ripken’s final game “belonged” to Cal Ripken, and so on. This year’s belonged to Derek Jeter like nothing in baseball has ever belonged to anything else. Bud Selig’s retirement was limited to a two-question commercial-break interruption. Tony Gwynn’s death was not even mentioned, not once. Neither was the death of Ralph Kiner. There was no aside noting that Tim McCarver was enjoying retirement after calling more All-Star games with Joe Buck than any broadcast duo in history. This was all Jeter’s.
Today sucks. Do something about it. Somebody do something about it.
It used to be that there was a day of inactivity after the All-Star break. We complained and we moaned, but we understood that a day, one day, is tolerable. Now there are two days, which is great if you're an All-Star traveling to your next road trip but more silence than most of us are into. We, as a staff, discussed some possibilities to distract us on the Wednesday after the All-Star game.
1. Play the Futures Game.
Why/How: It was late afternoon this year, but some years, it overlaps with up to 14 different games, which means that an audience of 420,000ish fans who presumably watch baseball (because they're at a baseball game) can't watch. Also, it's competing against those teams' television audiences, which is very dumb. Making it the Sunday night game would be okay, but I like moving it to one of the blank nights so it can get the evening to itself. Bonus benefit: The marquee players would be able to remain with their minor-league teams for the weekend games, which in a lot of cities are the only games people attend.
The eternal spectacle of a farewell All-Star appearance.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
On July 15, 2001, Baseball Prospectus published the following feature on the 2001 All-Star game. Derek Zumsteg wrote from the stands, where he saw another legendary, Hall of Fame-bound shortstop take a bow, doff his cap, and get a big hit against a suspiciously poorly located fastball from the opposing pitcher. Here's his account of Cal Ripken Jr.'s final All-Star game.