The Reds think the Redbirds don’t like them. Legendary National league manager Dusty Baker thinks former legend Tony La Russa has it out for his team.
And everybody is super ticked that their guys — their incredible guys — didn’t make the All-Star team.
But really, what is the big deal? Baker and La Russa certainly have enough of a past together (the Reds and Cardinals, too) that the accusations of bias against La Russa may be founded. He may have been choosy when picking the extra National League players for the All-Star Game.
But the widespread griping accompanying the All-Star selections, both this year and in many recent seasons, shows a greater issue is at stake. In a sport where it is mind-numbingly difficult to be named to the Hall of Fame, and where 600 home runs or being a lifetime .300 hitter doesn’t necessarily mark greatness, just about everybody seems to think he deserves to be an All-Star.
Think about it: All-Star. The best players in the game. One guy from every position. The cream of the crop. The fella that’s having the best year among all of his colleagues.
Now, think about the squawking since the results were announced. The Red Sox are a prime example. “How can we not have more than one player on the All-Star team?” Boston fans wailed. Well, because your team is just barely above .500 and has played horrid baseball for much of the season. Individually, your players are having decent seasons, but they’re decent in Boston — among their peers. Being an All-Star demands that a player be great, a cut above the rest. Do you honestly think anyone on the Red Sox roster is on the level of Josh Hamilton, early-season Derek Jeter or freaking Jered Weaver?
David Ortiz is at their level. He’s having a great year, both stats-wise and in what he’s meant to his team. And that’s why he’s an All-Star. His worth is equally measured by the number of his teammates who didn’t make the list as it is by the fact that he did make it.
Now, the Red Sox are an easy case, because perennial All-Stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia have had weak starts. Maybe this year, they don’t deserve to go, even though they’re usually picked. But what about a guy like Jarrod Saltalamacchia? He has not only had a great start to the year but also turned his career around and become a linchpin for the team, both in managing pitchers and in winning games with his bat.
But that’s where another wrinkle of the All-Star Game comes in that fans have to remember: Not everybody can make the team.
As much as good players put up strong numbers year after year, the league is full of talent. Think about third base in the American League, for example. That position offers former MVP Alex Rodriguez, three-time All-Star Evan Longoria (battling injuries this year), three-time All-Star Adrian Beltre and seven-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera. And the American League is lucky in this regard — the National League has more than a half-dozen guys playing great at the hot corner. So, with an All-Star starting spot and one backup role, who do you pick?
Rodriguez was the odd man out this year, as Beltre got the All-Star start and Cabrera the second spot. But in a sport full of great players at every position, missing out on the All-Star Game shouldn’t be a mark of shame — it’s just a sign that tons of talented guys play, and a player is going to have to put up a great year to get the All-Star nod.
That’s also the main problem with the Baker-La Russa feud. Three of Baker’s players — first baseman Joey Votto, reliever Aroldis Chapman and right fielder Jay Bruce (on La Russa’s pick, mind you) — made the team. But second baseman Brandon Phillips and right-hander Johnny Cueto did not, and Baker says they should have.
Now, a manager wants to lobby for his players, but Baker has gone beyond that. He’s deep into character assassination, fuming about a vast conspiracy when… he doesn’t get five guys on the All-Star team?
Do a little math. With 30 teams in Major League Baseball, and about 34 spots on each basic All-Star roster once all of the pitching roles get added in, that leaves 68 spots for 30 teams. Isn’t it a bit selfish for one team to think it can send five guys? This isn’t an argument for “every team should be represented,” because they certainly shouldn’t, especially if they stink, and most especially if the individual is not deserving (no matter how he compared to his even worse teammates).
But every one of those spots should be valuable, and sometimes, there are just not enough selections to go around. Fan favorites and sentimental picks are not what the All-Star Game is about — this is supposed to showcase the best of the season, to stand up next to baseball history and reaffirm the league’s finest for this year.
Frankly, Mr. Baker, there’s no crying in baseball. And there’s certainly no “everybody makes the team,” like in Little League. The All-Star Game, for all of its flaws, should still be a high honor. And picking any guy who has had a decent season detracts from that honor. The rosters are bloated enough as they are. Further additions, and making accusations based on the third- or fourth-tier rankings of who’s the best at a position, is missing the point of why All-Stars are picked at all.