Steve Delabar is the kind of guy you root for. His whole story is awesome, and it’s always cool to see an underdog get recognized for his success. But let’s be real here. Is he really an All-Star?
Sentimental stuff aside, no. Delabar is having a tremendous season, but it’s outlandish to think that he should be playing alongside some of baseball’s best at this year’s Midsummer Classic.
This isn’t to say that Delabar was a bad choice when it came to the five AL Final Vote candidates. I, personally, put my eggs into the Koji Uehara basket, but none of the candidates really jumped off the page, and it’s because this year’s Final Vote field was brutal.
No disrespect to Delabar, Uehara, Joaquin Benoit, Tanner Scheppers or David Robertson, but there are plenty of other AL players who should have been considered before those five players even entered the All-Star discussion. It was the hand we were dealt, though, because manager Jim Leyland decided that a fan vote consisting of five relievers was the way to go.
Leyland’s decision, while minor, actually highlights the inconsistency of Major League Baseball’s whole All-Star philosophy. There are so many variables involved when assembling the teams that we’re left debating the appropriate All-Star criteria. We’re no longer just figuring out who should be named an All-Star. We’re also figuring out what exactly an “All-Star” should be.
We’re told, “This One Counts.” So should the focus be on building the best possible “teams” for one game, even if it doesn’t include players who would generally be considered “All-Stars?” If so, then maybe Delabar does have a place, as he’s been one of baseball’s best setup men this season and he could come in handy while trying to nail down a tight game.
But we’re also told that the All-Star Game is all about the fans — hence the fan voting process, which is an issue in its own right. That’s all fine and good, but making it about the fans completely changes everything.
The fan-first approach conflicts with the “This One Counts” mentality. The assumption is that fans want to see high-profile players regardless of anything else, but what if a bona fide superstar’s numbers don’t stack up well with one of his league counterparts? What if a perennial All-Star gets off to a slow start? Who gets the nod?
The Final Vote isn’t a huge deal, but it adds to the All-Star Game’s contradictory nature. The Final Vote was implemented to further enhance fan interaction — because, hey, it’s all about the fans, right? — but that interaction is going to be limited if someone like Leyland is going to water down the ballot. One of the most telling facts of this year’s vote was that 19.7 million people voted for Freddie Freeman, who won the National League’s final roster spot. Only 9.6 million voted for Delabar. That shows that fans decided to turn off their computers — or whatever contraption they were using — and continue living after realizing that the AL didn’t offer up any recognizable faces.
Delabar will be a big hit at Citi Field. His baseball journey took him to independent leagues, where he played for the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League and the Brockton Rox of the Canadian-American Association. The 29-year-old also worked as a substitute teacher and coached baseball as recently as 2010. Throw in the fractured right elbow he suffered while pitching for the Rox in 2009, and you have a perfect Hollywood script.
But does a perfect, feel-good story warrant an All-Star bid over the likes of Evan Longoria, Grant Balfour and Jacoby Ellsbury, who have all had superior seasons? I tend to think not, but given the current state of the All-Star Game, I sometimes don’t know what to think.