PHOENIX—It is usually difficult to characterize Derek Jeter as a sympathetic figure.
The Yankees shortstop is not only one of the most recognizable players in the major leagues, but he's rich, famous, has dated some of the most beautiful women in the world, and erased any doubt that he is Cooperstown-bound last Saturday by collecting his 3,000th career hit on a day in which he went 5-for-5 against the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
However, in the case of the 2011 All-Star Game, played Tuesday night at Chase Field, it was difficult not to sympathize with Jeter at some level. He was in a situation where he couldn't win.
First, Jeter was criticized for being picked as the American League starting shortstop in fan balloting. His critics, including those in this corner, felt that the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera was clearly the league's best shortstop.
Jeter then was criticized for deciding to skip the All-Star Game and cede his spot in the lineup to Cabrera on Sunday. While it was announced that Jeter was skipping the game because he did not want to aggravate a strained right calf that had landed him on the disabled list for three weeks prior to his activation on July 4, reports said the 37-year-old actually begged off because of the physical and mental exhaustion caused by his pursuit of 3,000 hits.
The criticism was particular strong against the backdrop of an All-Star Game cynics were calling the No-Star Game, Some-Star Game or All-Scar Game because a total of 15 players were removed from the two leagues' rosters either because of injury or because they were starting pitchers on Sunday, which made them ineligible to pitch Tuesday.
Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Tuesday morning, decried the idea that the defections were an indication that many players find the All-Star Game a bother rather than an honor and don't take the event seriously even with the gimmicky aspect of the winning league gaining home-field advantage in the World Series. He pointed out that 10 of the 15 players who dropped off the active roster attended the festivities.
Four of the no-shows were Yankees, as left-hander CC Sabathia, closer Mariano Rivera, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez joined Jeter in staying away. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones also did not make the trip to the Valley of the Sun. Jones and Rodriguez both had arthroscopic knee surgery in the last week, Rivera was unavailable for three days last week because of arm problems, and Sabathia planned a family vacation to the Bahamas after being left off the original AL team announced on July 3.
"It's nonsense that players don't want to be here, just nonsense," Selig said. "Our players understand the importance of the All-Star Game and they want to participate."
Selig strongly defended Jeter's decision to stay home, even though Major League Baseball wanted to use the All-Star Game as a celebration of his 3,000th hit and some MLB officials admit they were privately stung that he declined to participate.
"There isn't a player I am more proud of the last 15 years than Derek Jeter," Selig said. "Any suggestion that I or anybody else is unhappy with him for not being here is false. I have no problem with Derek Jeter. I've known him for 15 years. He's already done the right thing. I completely understand the situation."
The rule instituted last season that states that any pitcher who starts a game on Sunday, the last day before the All-Star break, cannot pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, seems to need tweaking. Sabathia would not have been able to pitch even he had come to Arizona because of the rule, and other All-Stars such as Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander and Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels were ineligible to participate.
The easiest solution would seemingly be to push the game back one day to Wednesday and give all 30 teams a four-day All-Star break, with play resuming on Friday. However, Selig said some clubs would prefer to resume the season Thursday, and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, who also addressed the BBWAA membership, said taking an extra day at the break would further clog an already stuffed MLB schedule. The players are so concerned with the lack of off days and schedules that include more difficult travel that they have made it a major point in the negotiations with the owners in talks for a new basic agreement.
Another popular topic of conversation was the Dodgers' filing for bankruptcy protection, a move by owner Frank McCourt that could potentially tie MLB up in court proceedings for a long time. Selig, though, defended MLB for allowing McCourt to by the Dodgers from Fox Broadcasting in a highly leveraged deal in 2004.
"Seven or eight years ago, we had a highly complicated ownership situation, more complicated than we have now," Selig said. "When Fox sold the club to Frank McCourt—and remember, we didn't sell the club, Fox did—first it went to Fox, then it went to the executive committee, and then it went to all 30 clubs. All of that information is shared with all of those people and everyone looked at it. This was something Fox really wanted to get done."
Selig compared the Dodgers' situation to that of the Rangers last year when MLB also took over operations of that financially troubled club. The Rangers wound up being sold by Tom Hicks to an ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and won the AL pennant before losing to the Giants in the World Series. However, the Dodgers are in fourth place and 11 games out in the National League West.
"People were asking about the Rangers at this time last year, 'Isn't it terrible?'" Selig said. "But it didn't turn out that way. We have wonderful ownership now. We couldn't have done any better, and we'll make our way through this."
Selig said all 30 major-league clubs are reviewing fan safety at their stadiums following last Thursday's tragic death of fan Shannon Stone during at a game at Rangers Ballpark. Stone flipped over a railing and dropped 20 feet onto his head as he tried to catch a foul ball tossed to him by Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton. Selig got choked up as he talked about the accident.
"It was horrible," Selig said. "It's heartbreaking. It really is. It's almost beyond comprehension to believe something like that could happen. Everybody is reviewing parts of their ballparks where something like this could happen. Maybe there are some things that they can or can't do. So I guess what I would say to you is common sense should always take over in these situations."
Selig admitted that realignment is a possibility but not a given, as has been reported in some circles, though it would be more likely to happen in 2013 than next season. The MLBPA is pushing for an alignment in which both leagues would have 15 teams rather than the current setup that has the NL with 16 teams and the AL with 14. An alignment with balanced leagues would also require interleague play throughout the season rather than the current two blocks of AL vs. NL games per year.
"Is there massive realignment on the horizon? No there is not," Selig said. "Would I go to 15 and 15? I don't know. You would then have to play interleague play every day, obviously, and I like it the way it is."
Even though it has been 28 months since it was formed, Selig said the committee he appointed to study the Athletics' stadium situation and the possibility of the team leaving Oakland is not ready to make a recommendation as to what course of action the franchise should take. Selig, though, did express concern that the Rays are next-to-last in the major leagues in attendance behind only the Marlins, despite winning the AL East two of the last three years and having a 49-41 record this season.
Selig also indicated that MLB is likely to alter its video replay review system next season to include boundary calls on fair/foul balls down the left-field and right-field lines, and that Citi Field in New York will almost certainly host the 2013 All-Star Game and the 2014 affair will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Rumors and Rumblings:
The Blue Jays figure to be one of the more popular teams for contenders to trade with later this month, as they are willing to part with relievers Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch and will listen to offers for second baseman Aaron Hill and outfielders Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson… The Padres could also provide one-stop shopping for bullpen help, with Heath Bell, Mike Adams, and Chad Qualls all available at the right price… The Orioles are yet another team with relievers for sale in Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, and Koji Uehara, while first baseman Derrek Lee can be had for a second-tier prospect… The Marlins aren't shopping right-hander Anibal Sanchez, but they are at least listening to potential suitors… There continues to be speculation that the Cardinals would be willing to trade center fielder Colby Rasmus, who frustrates management with his inconsistency, for a frontline starting pitcher or a closer.
Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard: "He just keeps better and better and better, and now he is just blowing hitters away. I know the Red Sox have a big decision to make on whether to re-sign Jonathan Papelbon after the season, but I wouldn't open the vault on him knowing I have Bard ready to step in as the closer. There is no doubt in my mind he could be an outstanding closer."
Braves right-hander Derek Lowe: "The Braves are contending in spite of this guy. He's hard to figure. He can look so good at times, like he did during the last month of last season. Then he can look bad like he has so many times this season. If they're going to overtake the Phillies (in the NL East), they are going to need him to have a good finish."
Yankees infielder Eduardo Nunez: "He did a good job when Derek Jeter was out, and he'll hold the fort down OK while Alex Rodriguez is out. The Yankees have such a good lineup that they don't need him to put up big numbers. If he just does his thing like he did when Jeter was hurt, they'll be fine."
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval: "This guy has really shown me something this year. He understood his career was at a crossroads last year when he hardly got off the bench in the World Series. He lost 40 pounds, and he's come back strong. He's going to carry that club in the second half, mark my words."
Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino: "He kind of gets overlooked with all the big names on that team, but the Phillies play better when he is in the lineup. He plays with energy, and he makes things happen. They need him to stay healthy in the second half."