The baseball All-Star Game is a great invention. I don't know about you, but every year my interest in baseball begins to sag in May and June. The initial excitement of Opening Day and those first few weeks has started to fade, the NBA and NHL playoffs are heating up. But baseball's just going about its business, day in, day out.
It's way too early to start getting excited about the pennant races. That won't happen until mid-August at the earliest. It's too early even to think seriously about the moves teams might make at the July 31 trading deadline. It's just one game after another. For the first time since the start of the season, I find myself letting a day or two, maybe even three or four, go by without watching any games, without examining the box scores or reading the game reports.
But then, just when the basketball and hockey playoffs end, it's time to start thinking about the All-Star Game, which in some ways is the quintessential baseball event: The game itself may or may not be interesting, and is certainly meaningless, but talking about it, arguing over it, complaining about who gets selected and who doesn't, can fill many a pleasant summer hour.
Fans vote for the All-Star starters, and there are always those baseball purists who say the vote should be taken away because we fans are too dumb to pick the right guys. We are pretty dumb, now that you mention it. At the moment we've got the Mets' Roberto Alomar, who isn't even his own team's best second baseman, as the National League second baseman, and slumping Scott Rolen of the Phillies at third, and that's not to mention how long we take to order two hot dogs and a medium root beer when we're in front of you at the concession stand. But the All-Star Game is our game, and if we want to watch Roberto Alomar play second base, too bad for the purists. And besides, the fans get it right most of the time.
The other big controversies involve those last few guys left off the team every year. This year baseball is letting fans vote on the final spot, from a list of five bubble guys provided by each league's manager, who are the World Series skippers, Joe Torre and Bob Brenly.
Here's what I would do if I were them: I'd take back that last choice by leaving off the most obvious guy who should make the team but didn't get voted in as a starter. At the moment I think that would be Lance Berkman in the N.L. and Jim Thome in the A.L. Fans would have no choice but to vote them in, and I would have essentially made all 22 nonstarting-eight picks. I would do this for no other reason than to piss people off, to listen to sports radio hosts gurgling and sputtering their hatred of me.
You have your pastimes, I have mine.
Anyway, let's not worry about fan voting yet. For now, here are my teams, based solely on who I think is having the best year, but respecting the rule that every team must be represented by at least one player, a stupid rule, and more on that later.
American League starters: 1b Jason Giambi, New York; 2b Alfonso Soriano, New York; ss Alex Rodriguez, Texas; 3b Eric Chavez, Oakland; of Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle, Torii Hunter, Minnesota, Manny Ramirez, Boston; c Jorge Posada, New York; p Derek Lowe, Boston.
National League starters: 1b Todd Helton, Colorado; 2b Jose Vidro, Montreal; ss Jose Hernandez, Milwaukee; 3b Mike Lowell, Florida; of Barry Bonds, San Francisco, Brian Giles, Pittsburgh, Sammy Sosa, Chicago; c Mike Piazza, New York; p Tom Glavine, Atlanta.
American League reserves: Infielders Jim Thome, Cleveland, Adam Kennedy, Anaheim, Nomar Garciaparra, Boston, Omar Vizquel, Cleveland, Tony Batista, Baltimore, Eric Hinske, Toronto; outfielders Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon, Anaheim, Magglio Ordonez, Chicago, Bernie Williams, New York, Randy Winn, Tampa Bay; catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Minnesota.
National League reserves: Infielders Richie Sexson, Milwaukee, Junior Spivey, Arizona, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, Tyler Houston, Milwaukee; outfielders Andruw Jones, Atlanta, Adam Dunn, Cincinnati, Lance Berkman, Houston, Shawn Green, Los Angeles, Vladimir Guerrero, Montreal, Pat Burrell, Philadelphia, Jim Edmonds, St. Louis; c Jason Kendall, Pittsburgh.
American League pitchers: Ugueth Urbina, Boston, Mark Buehrle, Chicago, Bartolo Colon, Cleveland, Juan Acevedo, Detroit, Roberto Hernandez, Kansas City, Eddie Guardado, Minnesota, Mariano Rivera, New York, Barry Zito, Oakland, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Seattle.
National League pitchers: Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Byung-Hyun Kim, Arizona, Elmer Dessens, Cincinnati, Eric Gagne and Odalis Perez, Los Angeles, Vicente Padilla, Philadelphia, Jason Isringhausen, St. Louis, Trevor Hoffman, San Diego.
Surprisingly, I found the "every team must be represented" rule tougher to follow in the 14-team American League than in the 16-team National League. I chose the 30 players in each league who I thought were All-Stars, then went back and adjusted. My N.L. team already had a player from each team, but my A.L. team lacked Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers, so I had to do some adjusting.
That explains why Roberto Hernandez of the Royals and Juan Acevedo of the Tigers are on the team rather than other pitchers who are having better years, such as Freddie Garcia of the Mariners, or even Garcia's teammate Shigetoshi Hasegawa, one of several middle relievers whom I couldn't figure out how to include.
And that explains why this rule has to go. Why should a deserving All-Star miss out on his rightful honor just so an undeserving Tampa Bay Devil Ray can play? Does baseball really think that fans in the Tampa Bay area will only tune in to the All-Star Game if they get to see Randy Winn play the outfield for an inning late in the game? Randy Winn plays the outfield almost every day right in St. Petersburg and the people in the Tampa Bay area don't care.
I'd also like to see, as long as we're arguing here, All-Star Game rosters trimmed back to 25 players. Having 30 players on the team seems like another example of what's been called the everybody gets a trophy culture. (The Wild Card is another, but never mind that now.) All-Star rosters have been expanding since the '60s because no matter how big they are, people complain when this player or that one doesn't get picked. "How can you leave Joe Shlabotnik off the team when he's hitting .341?" Well, if he's hitting .341 and he's not one of the best 25 players in the league, or more to the point not one of the best two or maybe three at his position, he shouldn't be an All-Star. Tough.
I'll still have to adjust my teams a little because of the fan vote. Through Monday, the latest figures available, Alomar and Rolen were leading the balloting at their positions and they're not even on my team as reserves. In the American League, whoever gets voted in to play third base (Shea Hillenbrand of Boston is the leader) will force me to adjust, as none of the top five (Hillenbrand, Robin Ventura, Corey Koskie, Troy Glaus and Jeff Cirillo) is on my team, and I picked three third basemen! I need Hinske, who's having an All-Star year anyway, because he's the only Blue Jay, and Batista, a borderline All-Star, because he's the only Oriole, so the fan election will mean I'll have to dump the third baseman having the best year, Eric Chavez of the A's. Stupid rule.
We'll talk about this some more in the next few weeks. We can argue about my choices -- yes, I do have three Phillies and three Brewers but only one Giant, and yes, I do think that's strange -- which will evolve as more games are played, and you can tell me who your All-Stars are.