It?s the biggest debate in baseball, aside from whether interleague play should still exist. And on Tuesday night in Anaheim, Calif., Joe Girardi proved why.
Major League Baseball boasts the only All-Star Game in which the result actually matters. In the NBA, All-Star Weekend is just supposed to be fun, and it is. It?s a bit of a circus, but the players and the fans love it. The NHL didn?t even have an All-Star festivity this year because of the Olympics. And the Pro Bowl, widely regarded as a joke, didn?t even happen until after the Super Bowl before this past season, which forced out any Colt or Saint.
So why, then, does MLB insist on making its All-Star Game count for home-field advantage in the World Series?
It?s hard to believe that the players are so unmotivated that they need to be given something tangible to play for every July. Being named to the roster is an honor, and, for the most part, players recognize that you only opt out of the game due to serious fatigue or injury (as was the case with Mariano Rivera this year). In fact, the Midsummer Classic is such an honor that even the injured players who know they?re not stepping foot on the field still show up, a la Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz this year.
But although making the game count may help the competitive juices flow a little more freely, playing for pride would fare just as well — and this year in particular, it would have helped Yankees skipper Girardi escape boundless criticism for becoming the first AL manager to lose since 1996.
It seems silly to question Girardi for mismanaging an All-Star Game because it?s just supposed to be fun. But New York fans are questioning him because his reluctance to use one of his biggest offensive weapons in the ninth inning of a then-3-1 game may have deprived his own team home-field advantage in this year?s World Series (because, let?s face it — the Yankees are the best team in the AL at the moment, and possibly even the best team in baseball).
With David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre set to hit first and second in the bottom of the ninth, Girardi had one potent bat remaining on his bench: that of Alex Rodriguez. The reason why Girardi failed to use him remains a mystery. On Wednesday night, reports surfaced that a mild thumb injury was the reason he didn?t get in the game, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman immediately lashed out against that report, telling ESPN.com that the injury was so minor it wasn?t even worth discussing, and that "[Girardi?s] decision was for strategy purposes only."
Well then — if that?s the case, what strategy was that?
Ortiz singled to lead off the inning. Beltre and Rodriguez boast almost identical career statistics against NL closer Jonathan Broxton, except for one factor: Beltre?s stat line is four years old, while Rodriguez went 1-for-1 with a walk against him just a few weeks ago.
And even if Girardi did favor Beltre?s bat over Rodriguez?s — even if he wanted to give Beltre the honor of stepping into the box — why not use A-Rod as a pinch-hitter for Ortiz (a move that would?ve paid off big-time in retrospect, considering Ortiz?s baserunning gaffe killed a rally and led to the second out of the ninth)?
Things just don?t add up, and the most frustrating part is that it shouldn?t matter at all. Girardi should be able to tip his cap to the NL, shrug this one off and begin preparing for the second half of the season.
Instead, he?s answering questions about why he didn?t use A-Rod as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a game that shouldn?t even count.