This is the 11th season that the All-Star Game has “counted.” If you recall, way back in 2001, both teams ran out of pitchers and the game ended in a tie after 11 exciting innings, leaving fans at the stadium and TV viewers disappointed, to put it mildly.
So, in all his wisdom, Commissioner Bud Selig — along with TV executives — led efforts to bring some meaning back to the All-Star Game. The result is that the All-Star Game determines home-field advantage for the World Series.
I don’t understand how players and teams accept determining home-field advantage by teams elected by the fans in a popularity vote. No disrespect to Pablo Sandoval, but the National League will play the game with one of its best players, David Wright of the Mets, starting on the bench. Dan Uggla, maybe not even the third-best second baseman in the NL, will start the game, leaving Brandon Phillips of the Reds out of the game completely.
(And before you start going all Dusty Baker on me, it’s clear to most everyone outside of Cincinnati that Jose Altuve is the most deserving second baseman in the NL, and it doesn’t make sense to take three second baseman, so Phillips must be left out.)
And even the players aren’t above the whole popularity thing. How else do you explain why A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t selected by his peers to represent his league? He’s having as good a season as any catcher in the American League, but he’ll be watching from home as the AL tries to secure home-field advantage.
With the starters voted in by the fans, some players elected by a survey of players, and other reserves selected by the manager, how can we expect the best of each team to be there?
And without the best vs. the best, how can we use this game to determine home-field advantage?
While there are so many things wrong with that, it isn’t the only problem MLB has with its midsummer showcase.
In case you missed it over the winter, there was a clear directive from MLB requiring players selected for the game to be there. No more begging off with slight or phantom injuries. So, how’s that working out?
The Nationals’ Ian Desmond, selected as a reserve for the National League, has already begged out of the game due to an injury involving his side. Okay. However, over the weekend he seemed healthy enough to get four hits in seven at-bats with two home runs and two stolen bases — and that was just Saturday and Sunday. How does that make sense? Even with the Nationals in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981 when the franchise was in Montreal, Desmond doesn’t seem too concerned with helping his NL mates secure home-field advantage for the World Series.
The game no longer reflects the way the game is played on a daily basis. Only in the All-Star Game do we see pitchers throwing no more than two innings. Since that’s the way the game is played, if you really wanted to win, wouldn’t you stock your team with relief pitchers who have mastered the one-inning appearance?
And rarely do we see All-Star managers attempt to get favorable matchups. There’s no lefty vs. lefty strategizing like you would see during a pennant race. In case you haven’t noticed, there are no setup men on either roster. Not only are there some deserving candidates, but those pitchers are perfectly suited for this type of game.
And managers take great pains to get everyone in the game. If they were really trying to win, would you see Matt Joyce replacing Josh Hamilton or Howie Kendrick subbing for Robinson Cano? Those are just two of the moves made in last year’s game.
And I know that this year’s situation is rare, but we have a manager (Tony La Russa) selecting a good portion of the team for the National League and actually running the game, but with no stake in it whatsoever.
Here are a couple of suggestions to improve the All-Star Game for the fans.
1) Forget home-field advantage for the World Series
I know that players treating this game as meaningless is what caused MLB to overreact in the first place. But here’s a thought: Tie players’ foundations to the game. Most players have a cause they support, and if they don’t already, being selected to play in the All-Star Game would give them a reason to find a cause. Only foundations and charities of players who participate will benefit. Winning players’ foundations will benefit more than the losers. How many players will beg out of an opportunity to boost their charitable work? No more than are begging out now.
2) Keep player selection as is
Keep the fans involved in selecting players. Keep the players vote. Allow managers to select reserves. And, by all means, keep the rule that all teams must be represented. No group of fans should be left out of this classic.
3) Make it a complete All-Star week
I really like the idea of the Futures Game. It’s a terrific way to reward prospects and give the fans a glimpse into the future. The Futures Game should be played at the site of the All-Star Game on Monday night, prime time, when there’s no other baseball. After the All-Star Game on Tuesday, honor the past with an Old-timers All-Star Night. Rather than having the recently retired Randy Johnson face the aging Yogi Berra, have a three-inning game with older players from the 1950s and ’60s. Then have a seven-inning version with more recently retired players like Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. You think fans wouldn’t flock to see those guys in uniform one more time? After an off-day on Thursday, it’s back to the regular season on Friday.
Oh, and the solution for home-field for four games in the World Series? How about taking the most wins in interleague play? After all, that seems to be a more fair and accurate way to judge the better league anyway.
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Seattle Mariners Mt. Rushmore
In only 35 years of existence, the Seattle Mariners have enjoyed very little success, although the franchise can claim the most single-season wins by any team — 116 in 2001 — since the M’s joined the American League in 1977. There have been just four postseason appearances, and the Mariners have never reached the World Series. The signature moment for the franchise is Ken Griffey racing home from first base with the winning run on an Edgar Martinez double to give the 1995 team the first playoff series win in franchise history. The Mariners overcame a two-games-to-none deficit to defeat the Yankees 6-5 in 11 innings to win the series in five games. This is clearly the simplest selection process of any of the Mt. Rushmores chosen to this point.
From the time he was selected No. 1 overall in the 1988 draft out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, the kid with the broad grin and hat on backwards became a favorite son in Seattle. On the field during his 11 seasons as a Mariner he hit 398 home runs, scored 1,063 runs and drove home 1,152. He was named AL MVP in 1997 when he hit 56 homers and had 147 RBIs. He finished in the top 5 in MVP voting another four times and had two more top 10 finishes. He made 10 All-Star teams and won 10 Gold Gloves.
Having spent his entire 18 seasons in Seattle, Martinez became the face of the franchise once Ken Griffey was traded to Cincinnati. In the 12 seasons in which he had as many as 500 plate appearances, Martinez batted better than .300 10 times and topped .320 seven times. For his career he batted .312, had an on-base of .418 and slugged .515. He finished third in MVP voting in 1995 after leading the American League with a .356 average, a .479 on-base percentage, 52 doubles, 121 runs and a 1.107 OPS. He ranks first in franchise history in games, runs, RBIs and total bases.
Since coming to America at the ripe age of 27 back in 2001, Ichiro has been known by one name and for his complete game as a player. During his first 11 seasons he’s averaged 159 games a year, 221 hits, 102 runs and 38 steals with a .326 batting average. He’s made 10 All-Star teams, won 10 Gold Gloves and was named both MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 after winning the first of two batting titles and leading the AL with 56 stolen bases. He is Seattle’s all-time leader in hits with 2,428.
The Big Unit launched his career with the Mariners after a trade from the Expos in 1989. He won four strikeout titles and an ERA title while in Seattle. He surrounded an injury-plagued 1996 season when he went 5-0 with 18-2 and 20-4 seasons. Johnson had four top-3 finishes in the Cy Young race including a win in 1995 when he finished sixth in MVP voting.
Manager Lou Piniella guided the team to its only four postseason appearances including the record 116-win season in 2001.
Current ace Felix Hernandez is moving up the pecking order, but hasn’t been around quite long enough yet.
Alvin Davis spent just eight seasons in Seattle, but he was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1984 and received MVP votes in ’84 and ’89.
Alex Rodriguez didn’t endear himself to fans in Seattle when he left town in 2001, but from 1996-2000 he averaged .315-37-115 with 122 runs, 25 steals and a .956 OPS.
The ageless Jamie Moyer is the all-time leader with 145 wins for the M’s and owns two of the franchise’s three 20-win seasons.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Gonzo and the Big Unit are honored here. But who are the other two players on Arizona's Mt. Rushmore?
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
I am continuing the series of MLB Mt. Rushmores. The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Arizona Diamondbacks Mt. Rushmore
One of the two youngest franchises in baseball, the Diamondbacks joined the National League in 1998 and have enjoyed some postseason success, proving the world is different for expansion teams in recent years. Born the same year as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the D’backs won 100 games in their second season, still the high-water mark for the franchise. Free agent Randy Johnson was the ace of the staff. Three players — Steve Finley, Matt Williams and Jay Bell — hit as many as 34 homers and a fourth player, Luis Gonzalez, joined that group in driving in more than 100 runs. Tony Womack stole 72 bases, proving Arizona could win with speed and power. As with any franchise this young, the choices for Mt. Rushmore are few, and likely to change several times over the next 15 years.
Luis Gonzalez (1999-2006)
The only Diamondback with his number retired, Gonzo is the franchise leader in every offensive category other than strikeouts and steals. As a hitter in Arizona history, there is no equal. The leftfielder spent eight seasons in Phoenix and made five All-Star teams, and was third in MVP voting in 2001. During those eight seasons, Gonzalez batted .298 and averaged 98 runs and 97 RBIs with 39 doubles and 28 homers; pretty good numbers even in the Steroid Era. He was there for three of the team’s four division titles, and had the most memorable hit in franchise history, the bloop single over second base for a World Series walk-off in 2001.
Randy Johnson (1999-2004, ’07-’08)
The Big Unit arrived in Arizona as a free agent in 1999 as a 35-year-old ace and immediately won four consecutive Cy Young awards. He shared the 2001 World Series MVP award with fellow ace, Curt Schilling. In two stints with the team, Johnson was present for all four division titles. And during his eight seasons as a member of the Diamondbacks, the team averaged 85 wins per season. In the five full seasons without Johnson, the D’backs have been a 70-win team.
Steve Finley (1999-2004)
A top centerfielder, Finley won two Gold Gloves as a member of the D’backs. He scored 100 runs a couple of times and drove in 103 once. He hit more than 30 homers twice and was an All-Star in 2000. Finley ranks second behind Gonzalez on the D’backs career lists in most offensive categories.
Brandon Webb (2003-09)
Webb made 198 starts and won 87 games during his tenure with Arizona — all second to Johnson. The eighth-round draft pick in 2000 made his debut in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2006 before finishing second in the voting in 2007-08.
There is little doubt that Justin Upton will play his way onto the mountain if the Diamondbacks don’t trade him.
The 2001 World Series co-MVP, Curt Schilling, had too short of a tenure in Arizona to make the mountain. His career numbers in an Arizona uniform pale next to Webb’s.
Shortstop Stephen Drew is quickly moving up the stat lists for the D’backs, but he’ll have to earn the honor with longevity, not with dominant seasons.
Much like Drew, Chris Young is building a nice career in Arizona, but he doesn’t have the wow factor of Upton and has yet to have the longevity of Finley.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Trading prospects for rental players is playing Trade Deadline Roulette
by Charlie Miller
As soon as the dust settled at the All-Star Game, the chatter around the majors turned to trade talk. Who are the buyers and sellers? Fans want to know. This season, with so many close races, the buyers may outnumber the sellers, raising the prices for prized rental players.
But fans should beware, not all trades made for the stretch run work out. And fans of sellers, beware, not all “can’t miss” prospects make it.
Here’s a sampling of history that should put any deadline deals in perspective.