I like Gregg Zaun’s “call it as I see it” approach to talking about baseball, something too infrequent in the media these days with so many media sources tied into ownership of the clubs or having vested interests in not rocking the boat. However, I have to disagree with his take on the All Star Garme.
Zaun dislikes that fans get to vote on it, because there is a chance that they may pick undeserving players to appear in the Mid Summer Classic. Certainly that has happened before (with players being voted in on merit of past glories rather than current ability or because of one city stacking the ballot box…KC, looking at you!) and it will no doubt happen again. And I say to that – good. Let it.
Because, the game is after all, for the fans. At least when it decided home advantage in the World Series, it actually meant a little to some teams. Now it’s once again a pure fan spectacle. If we need any further proof of that, just look at the Home Run Derby tied to the game, in which players pick their own pitcher (often a coach or even a father) to lob them the easiest possible balls to hit a mile. There’s very little skill involved and it has nothing to do with actual regular schedule game play, but many fans seem to love it. If MLB wanted to suggest it actually had some sort of redeeming value tied to the season, they’d at least pick the toughest pitchers to throw at the boppers. Max Scherzer trying to throw around Aaron Judge who’s trying to knock one out of the park- now there’s some competition and battle of skill!
The All Star Game is for fans to see their favorites all on the field at once and enjoy some lighthearted moments that inevitably result when players who are typically arch-rivals and foes bond and goof off together. Yes, that may mean a few young players, especially on small-market teams, may get over-looked in favor of future Hall of Famers having their last hurrah, but if that’s what the fans want to see, isn’t that what baseball should provide? If fans prefer seeing “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon , 45 years old and 90 pounds overweight on the mound to say, Mike Clevinger, why not give them that chance. Speaking of which, I think the fan vote should be expanded to include at least one pitcher.
A look at this year’s balloting so far shows the fans are doing a decent enough job at being discerning anyway. Atlanta is the only team with three players leading in the voting, and the Braves are one of the year’s big surprises, leading the NL East still. Over in the AL, Boston and New York each have two players looking like they’ll be in, but again, those teams have been steamrollers thus far and it would be hard to argue against Mookie Betts, (tied for the lead league with a .340 average as well as clipping 18 homers); JD Martinez (22 homers, second best in the league to Mike Trout, who is also set to be voted in), or Aaron Judge, the sophomore with 18 homers and a .963 OPS so far.Gary Sanchez is a wee bit more questionable, but there’s no catcher rewriting history this year, so he’s about as valid as any other choice. The most “iffy” leader so far would be Jose Abreu of Chicago, who has decent numbers (.284, 11/43, .843 OPS) but hasn’t stood out. And the White Sox aren’t raking in votes elsewhere, so it’s hard to accuse them of ballot-stuffing.
Let the fans have their say and there will still be plenty of chance for the players and manager of the squad (last year’s league champion manager) to select overlooked stars. Remember, fans only pick the starting position players. The players and manager add all the many reserves and pitchers. On the same topic, while I see Zaun’s reason for objecting to having a rep from each team there, I say let that stand. It’s true some teams don’t have any player who really is dominant enough to outshine their competition – and yes, Toronto is one of several teams fitting that description this year – what harm is there in having a player wear the cap and “represent” ? The object of it is to get fans tuning in and one wonders how many people in areas like Tampa or Cincinnati would do so if their teams were entirely snubbed and we instead saw virtually the entire Red Sox or Nationals roster there because of their numbers.
Yes, there will be a player or three who are good enough to be there that won’t be and yes, you can be certain between fan biases and the “every team present” rule there will be a player or two of merely ordinary talent there. But the resulting debates are half the fun for us fans, and the actual exhibition game the other half. Besides, we already have a way to measure who really has the best talent in baseball. It’s called the World Series.