MLB All-Star Game
Mid-July brings about a four-day lull in the baseball season where players are free to rest, relax, and recuperate before making the big push toward October. For many players, this is a welcomed event. But for a few, there is no break. There is only more baseball, meant for the best of the best developed over the first half of the season. This is the All-Star Game, where the best are invited to play for the highest stakes.
Every year the managers from the two teams who played in last season’s World Series are invited to choose twenty-five individuals to play for home field advantage in the current season’s World Series. In 2012, that meant Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers and the now-retired Tony La Russa of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Both men have accomplished a lot in their careers, especially La Russa, who will go down in baseball history as one of the greatest managers. Both men are allowed to pick their teams (with a few conditions), and both will pick the best.
The fans are allowed to vote for position players, with the vote winner at each position starting the game. Which is both a good and bad thing, as fans are pretty biased most of the time. Every team must be represented by at least one player, as well, which means no matter how poorly the team is, they will be at the game. With those conditions, the American League and National League square up in a showdown of showdowns.
The action got underway early this year with 2011 Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander starting for the “home” American League. Knowing that most everyone had to get in the game, Verlander was only going to pitch two innings at most. So he came out firing, throwing as hard and fast as he could. Which didn’t end well. By not pitching the game that he normally does, Verlander gave up four hits, two walks, and five earned runs in just one inning of work. The National League never looked back from there, as starter Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants blanked the A.L. through two innings.
The rest of the game slowed down considerably, with Joe Nathan and David Price putting up zeroes for the A.L. to follow Verlander. Matt Harrison of the Texas Rangers was very shoddy as well, giving up three earned runs of his own in the fourth inning, putting the N.L. up 8-0. That was all for the major offense in this game, as it became a pitching performance the rest of the way. National League pitchers like Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, and R.A. Dickey shut down the A.L. offense, and Chris Sale, Jered Weaver, and Ryan Cook kept the N.L. from doing any more damage. By game’s end, the National League had claimed home field for the third consecutive year.
There was a lot of question as to whether or not Verlander should have started this game. Even he himself said that the starter should be the best pitcher in the league in 2012. Right now David Price and Jered Weaver are having better years than Verlander. So perhaps one of them should have started. He really didn’t pitch the game he usually does, and it cost him in a big way. There’s also a lot of flak given to the “fan vote” that decides the starters. People don’t pay a lot of attention to baseball outside of their own state or city or the major media outlets. So they don’t know that Paul Konerko is having a much better year at first base than Prince Fielder. They don’t know that Austin Jackson is the most improved player in the game this season, and a much better overall center fielder than Curtis Granderson. They don’t know that Derek Jeter is played out, and Asdrubal Cabrera is a better overall shortstop. So the fan vote gets skewed a lot, and players having remarkable years suffer for it.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the prize for winning the All-Star Game. Home field advantage in the World Series is a big prize (as the team having it has won the series six of the last nine years). In a game that most aren’t taking seriously, should the prize be something that potentially only one player on the team should benefit from? Then again, it’s nice that the game means something, because otherwise it’s a worthless game whose only purpose is extended revenue. Perhaps the prize should be something else. I heard one idea that the new Wild Card playoff addition should be brought into play here. Instead of both teams getting a fifth playoff team, perhaps there’s only one extra Wild Card spot, and whichever league wins the All-Star Game gets that second Wild Card team. Definitely an interesting proposition, and something that at least three or four other teams in both leagues would gladly fight for the remainder of the way. Perhaps there’s another option that no one has thought of just yet that can split the difference between the two. Who knows?
From beginning to end, the 2012 All-Star Game was pretty boring, and disappointing as an American League fan. I’m sure the festivities are much more impressive if you’re actually present, but it was a pretty boring finish for all the hype. Hopefully the National League makes the most of their home field advantage (could work well if the Nationals continue to play such good baseball and make a trip to the World Series), and hopefully the American League can make the point moot. We’ll just have to wait and see, as the battle for October begins right now.