MLB’s All-Star Weekend Through My Eyes
By Michael Jokinen 7/17/13
(Mariano Rivera gets a standing ovation in his final All-Star Game)
I love the MLB All-Star Game. I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I always get a bang out of the Midsummer Classic. In part, it’s because I enjoy the pageantry of any All-Star Game. A celebration of the best talent. But there’s something specific to baseball’s version that gets me. No, it’s not the home-field advantage thing – the whole This Time It Counts! modern A.S.G is a perversion. Keep it a true exhibition. But that doesn’t soil All-Star weekend for me …
Baseball’s Midsummer Classic is my favorite because it’s the oldest and most storied (a larger theme that helps explains why I prefer baseball to basketball/football in general … baseball is old) All-Star Game of all the major American sports. But more importantly, baseball’s A.S.G. is a truer display of talent than some other sports’ A.S.G. In football, players loaf around – and understandably so – because they don’t want to tear an A.C.L. or get a concussion. In basketball, players show disinterest in playing defense or running the floor because it’s exhausting. Baseball has a leg-up, because it’s less physically taxing to perform at one’s full capabilities. Matt Harvey or Max Scherzer can unleash a 100mph fastball because they know they’ll only be pitching 1-2 innings. It’s not that exerting for Miguel Cabrera to be Miguel Cabrera. He can display his hitting talents without breaking a sweat or worrying about falling victim to a season-ending injury. Baseball’s A.S.G. is both a spectacle and somewhat-true test of mettle.
Even so, most All-Star Games blur together. I usually forget entirely about a particular A.S.G. after a few years. This year was different. And it wasn’t because “this year signifies a passing of the torch … just look at this influx of young talent in the All-Star Game! We’ve reached a crossroads in baseball history!” … People always reach for that narrative. There are always brilliant phenoms who make the All-Star roster – if it’s not Matt Harvey then it’s Doc Gooden. Not only was this year’s game in The Big Apple, but it was Mariano Rivera’s final A.S.G. Haven’t seen an A.S.G. send-off like last night since Cal Ripken Jr./Tony Gwynn. Maybe some people were bored by the relative pitchers duel, but I thought the American League prevailed, 3-0, in a highly entertaining matchup – and the constant substitutions always hold my attention because you’re constantly watching players you haven’t yet seen. So I watched this year’s game with much interest. Here were some of my other takeaways from All-Star Weekend:
– Xander Bogaerts gave Red Sox fans a reason to dream with his Futures Game performance. He was arguably the best player on the field. A consensus top-5 overall prospect in the game right now (and I’d honestly take him over Ocascar Taveras), Bogaerts got his close-up this All-Star weekend. He was ranked 29th on Fangraphs.com’s recently-released list of Top-50 Trade Values. His paltry long-term contract is obviously a big factor. It might be just an approximation, but that ranking puts him ahead of young studs like Matt Moore, Carlos Gomez, Shelby Miller, Starling Marte, Wil Myers, and Jean Segura. But Sox fans like myself want no part of exercising that trade value. Bogaerts is an impact power-bat at a premium position. At 20 years old and under team control for six more years he has the potential to be a cornerstone player for a good ten years. Bogaerts/Iglesias/Middlebrooks figures to hold down the left side of Boston’s infield for the foreseeable future. Yum.
– HR Derby was pretty good. Better than it usually is. Yoenis Cespedes was an absolute beast, and watching Bryce Harper in his first big-league HR Derby (second youngest participant ever) was a novelty. The low-score of 4 (by former Derby champ Robinson Cano) was impressive – usually there’s an absolute dud who gets 2 or less.
– Keeping in mind that star-power isn’t insignificant – it’s supposed to be a glamorous event driven by superstars – here’s my All-Time HR Derby:
(1901-1960) Babe Ruth Group:
• Josh Gibson
• Babe Ruth
• Rogers Hornsby
• Lou Gehrig
• Mel Ott
• Hank Greenberg
• Jimmie Foxx
• Ted Williams
• Mickey Mantle
• Ralph Kiner
(1961-2012) Hank Aaron Group:
• Harmon Killebrew
• Hank Aaron
• Willie Mays
• Frank Robinson
• Willie McCovey
• Reggie Jackson
• Mike Schmidt
• Mark McGwire
• Ken Griffey Jr.
• Barry Bonds
– Biggest All-Star Game snubs (in no particular order): Josh Donaldson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Shoo Choo, Shelby Miller, Stephen Strasburg, Evan Longoria, Starling Marte, Adrian Beltre
– Should MLB adopt a Skills Competition to go along with the HR Derby on All-Star weekend? It’d be like the N.B.A., but with a base-running or throwing component. Spurned Dodgers fans could’ve delighted in watching Yasiel Puig throw pellets from deep right field.
– How much, on a 1-to-10 scale, did Angels fans cringe watching C.J. Wilson/Josh Hamilton Head N’ Shoulders ads during every-other TV commercial break? I’m guessing an 11. Well, at least C.J. Wilson has good hair I guess. Hey Josh, maybe spend less time doing self-satisfied commercials, and more time trying to get your OBP over .283 and living up to your monstrous contract.
– Did anyone else notice Cliff Lee looking pissed off as all hell during pre-game player introductions? Dude looked seriously agitated. Maybe he’s just frustrated that every question he’s been fielding from the media this All-Star weekend has been about whether he’ll be traded, or at the very least, how quickly the Phillies will become sellers.
– Manny Machado is too much. How many players would you rather start a franchise from scratch with? Trout? Sure. Maybe Harper too? Kershaw? Machado looks like a twelve year old, and he probably only struck out near the end so he could get home before his curfew. He also turned in the defensive play of the night in the 7th inning, when he threw out Paul Goldschmidt at first base on a high chopper, further evoking visions of Brooks Robinson.
– I’ve already detailed how special Jose Fernandez is. And at 20 years old, Fernandez became the fifth youngest All-Star in history. Last night he became only the third pitcher age 20 or younger, along with Bob Feller and Doc Gooden, to strike out two batters in the All-Star Game. He absolutely mowed down Pedroia/Cabrera/Davis in his only inning of work, flinging 96-98 mph fastballs on the paint with ease. Either Fernandez or Chris Sale had to be the most dominant pitcher of the night … Fernandez’s rapid ascent to stardom has been one of the best stories in baseball, especially for Marlins fans, who are looking for anything to cheer these days. So it’s no surprise that tons of Marlins fans took to Twitter to vent their collective frustration at FOX, the TV network which aired the game and scheduled an ill-timed Jason Grilli interview during Fernandez’s inning. The announcers glossed over Fernandez, practically bypassed him altogether, so they could have a fluff-n-puff interview with Grilli. Granted, Jason Grilli seems like a really funny guy, and he’s a great story himself, but you think they’d find a better time for that interview. Or at least not let it drag so long, or something. Jose Fernandez deserved more of a spotlight.
– Mariano Rivera did not pitch the 9th inning in his last All-Star Game! What? Now I understand A.L. manager Jim Leyland’s line of thought … he wanted to ensure that Rivera would pitch. If Leyland were to put some other pitcher instead of Rivera in for the 8th inning, the N.L. could potentially take the lead and then there might not be a bottom of the 9th – meaning Rivera wouldn’t get to pitch. But c’mon. What’re the odds of that? Oh ye of little faith. You mean to tell me Joe Nathan or Greg Holland would’ve surrendered 3 runs in the 8th inning? I know baseball is a kooky game, but I find that hard to believe. I would’ve taken the calculated gamble and risked not having Rivera pitch just so that fans could’ve seen him take the ball in the 9th inning. Rivera’s impromptu curtain call and 8th inning hold didn’t really diminish the moment, but if he had gotten the save and pitched the 9th inning it would’ve been so perfect.