When I saw that Joe Torre and Bob Brenly had each picked six of his own players for his All-Star team, I got all set to write a column blasting the Yankees and Diamondbacks managers for their hometown favoritism. I sat down and figured out my own All-Star squads -- and guess what? They're not that different from the ones Torre and Brenly chose.
I had four Diamondbacks and -- damn, I was all ready to sock it to Torre, who took seven Yankees last year -- six Yankees, though Torre and I differed on one of the six.
As I did two weeks ago, when I came up with my preliminary All-Star team, I figured out my starting lineups and 30-man rosters without regard to the fan votes. Then I adjusted for the votes, just as the real managers must. Although the fans and I disagreed on half of the National League lineup, I didn't have to juggle the roster that much, because three of the four starters had made my team as backups anyway. I only had to find a spot for third baseman Scott Rolen of Philadelphia. In the American League, I also had to adjust for a third baseman, Shea Hillenbrand of Boston, who was voted in by the fans. I think he's about the fifth best at his position in the A.L.
The fans and I agreed on Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano of the Yanks at first and second in the American League, Alex Rodriguez of Texas at short, Jorge Posada of the Yanks catching, and an outfield of Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle, Torii Hunter of Minnesota, and Manny Ramirez of Boston, who has, yes, missed half the year with injuries, but he's been so good while he's been in there that he deserves to start, especially in a weak year for A.L. outfielders.
My third baseman is Eric Chavez of Oakland, who was left off Torre's roster, though he could still be voted in by fans at MLB.com in a contest that ends Tuesday at 6 p.m. (EDT). Each All-Star manager has nominated five position players for the 30th and last roster spot, to be filled by the fans. Chavez's competition is Jim Thome of Cleveland, Johnny Damon of Boston, Darin Erstad of Anaheim, and Magglio Ordonez of Chicago. Thome and Ordonez both made my team, but not as starters, so my vote here would be Chavez, but follow your conscience. Damon was on my team, but I had to bump him to make room for Hillenbrand. Erstad didn't get close.
Torre made what I think were his worst choices among the infield reserves. He picked four backup shortstops: Derek Jeter of New York, Nomar Garciaparra of Boston, Miguel Tejada of Oakland, and Omar Vizquel of Cleveland. One of them will probably play second base in the actual game because Torre chose no second basemen.
Reasonable people can disagree on this, but I think the All-Star Game rewards the best players at each position, and if you are the fifth-best shortstop in your league, you aren't an All-Star, even if you are better than all of the second basemen in your league. That's just how baseball works. If you're the third-best team in the majors, but also the third best in your division, you don't make the playoffs. Too bad for you.
So Adam Kennedy of Anaheim, the second-best second baseman in the league, makes my team, and Tejada and Vizquel, clearly superior players to Kennedy, don't. Too bad for them. Baseball is designed to break your heart and all that.
Torre clearly thinks that the All-Star Game rewards the best players, period, regardless of position. I disagree with that opinion, but I understand it.
What I don't understand is Torre's choice of Robin Ventura of guess which team as the backup third baseman over not just Chavez but also Chavez's rightful runner-up, Eric Hinske, the Toronto Blue Jays rookie. Baseball folks are reluctant to put rookies into the All-Star Game because rookies have, by definition, had only one half of one good year. But it does happen, and I think Hinske's done enough to make it. But in any case, Chavez over Ventura is a no-brainer.
Torre also chose Baltimore's Tony Batista as a backup third baseman, because he needed an Oriole to obey the stupid rule that every team must have one representative on the All-Star roster. But since it's a relatively uneventful year for A.L. pitchers, I'll take closer Jorge Julio as my Oriole, since any pitcher he bumps won't be as deserving as Chavez or even Hinske. For the same reason, Kansas City closer Roberto Hernandez makes my team, rather than Torre's choice, first baseman Mike Sweeney. Again, Thome, kept away from the team by Sweeney, is more deserving than any pitcher who would be knocked out by Hernandez.
Thome is also more deserving than Paul Konerko of the White Sox, who is much loved by Salon's Chicago readership and whom Torre pegged as his other backup first baseman, with Sweeney. Konerko's been hot lately, but Thome is still outslugging him, and he gets on base way more often, despite Konerko's higher batting average.
Torre and I agree that A.J. Pierzynski of Minnesota should be the backup catcher.
We agree a fair amount on outfielders too. Torre seemed to use the outfield to comply with the "one from every team" rule, an understandable tactic because there just aren't many A.L. outfielders having good years. So we both picked Randy Winn of Tampa Bay, the only possible Devil Ray, and we both took Garret Anderson of the Angels. I didn't need an Angel because I have Kennedy and pitcher Ramon Ortiz, but Torre did. He also took Robert Fick of Detroit, his only Tiger. I got my Tiger by picking Detroit starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, who's having a legitimate All-Star year despite his 6-8 won-loss record. He just plays for a lousy team.
Torre and I both chose starting pitchers Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez of Boston, Freddie Garcia of Seattle, and Roy Halladay of Toronto (who is Torre's only Blue Jay, but not mine), and relievers Mariano Rivera of New York and Kazuhiro Sasaki of Seattle. I also had Hernandez, Julio and Weaver, as noted, for rule-compliance reasons. So we disagreed on three pitchers.
Torre rounded out his staff with starters Mark Buehrle of Chicago and Barry Zito of Oakland and closer Eddie Guardado of Minnesota. My last three pitchers were starters David Wells of the Yankees -- Torre didn't pick him! -- and Ortiz of Anaheim and reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa of Seattle, because I believe one middle reliever should make the All-Star team in each league every year, and Hasegawa has been outstanding. His is a legitimate but under-rewarded position.
Ortiz and Wells both get my vote over Zito because they've been more consistent, with fewer bad outings and more innings per start. But it's a close call, and I don't mind Zito's getting the nod over either of them. Buehrle was on my team two weeks ago, but he's pitched his way off it with two bad starts in a row and three in his last four outings. Guardado is no better than the fourth-best closer in the league, behind Rivera, Sasaki, Troy Percival of Anaheim, and maybe even Ugueth Urbina of Boston. Given Minnesota's sparkling middle relief, Guardado may not be any better than the fourth-best reliever on his own team.
My All-Star Game starting pitcher is Lowe. Torre won't name his starter till later. I was pleasantly surprised that Torre didn't name Yankees Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, great pitchers who are undeserving this year, to the team.
If I had to leave my roster one player shy and let fans choose, I'd leave off Hinske, because he's a rookie and he's my third third baseman. I'd let the fans choose between him, Damon, Konerko, Ventura and Ruben Sierra of Seattle. Bernie Williams of the Yankees is a little more deserving than Sierra, but why give fans two chances to vote in a seventh Yankee?
In the National League, fans and I agreed on first baseman Todd Helton of Colorado, outfielders Barry Bonds of San Francisco and Sammy Sosa of Chicago, and catcher Mike Piazza of the Mets. Fans took Jose Vidro of Montreal at second, Jimmy Rollins and Scott Rolen of Philadelphia at short and third, and Vladimir Guerrero of Montreal as the third outfielder. Except for Rolen, all those players made my team as reserves.
My choices were Junior Spivey of Arizona at second, Jose Hernandez of Milwaukee at short, Mike Lowell of Florida at third, and Lance Berkman of Houston in the outfield, all of whom made Bob Brenly's team as reserves, so it all works out. I don't know what to make of two Expos and two Phillies horning their way into the starting eight, but none of the choices are terrible, except Rolen, who's a good player having an off year. Lowell, who's having a breakthrough year, is the obvious choice there, and Tyler Houston of Milwaukee is clearly second best. Houston didn't make Brenly's All-Star squad, which is a bad call. He makes my team as a backup.
Brenly and I agreed that Houston's teammate Richie Sexson should be the backup first baseman, and that Florida's Luis Castillo, of 35-game hitting-streak fame, is a worthy third second baseman.
In the outfield, Brenly made his other bad call, leaving Brian Giles of Pittsburgh off the team. Giles was in my starting lineup two weeks ago, but Berkman nosed him out in the end. Since Guerrero was voted a starter, Berkman becomes a backup for my team, as he is for Brenly. Berkman is joined on Brenly's squad by Adam Dunn of Cincinnati and Shawn Green of Los Angeles, players I also chose, and Brenly's own Luis Gonzalez of Arizona. Gonzalez over Giles is favoritism. Giles is having a better year, and he's doing it in the middle of a much weaker offense. Jim Edmonds of St. Louis is also on my team.
Brenly chose his own Damian Miller as the backup catcher, as did I. He also took Benito Santiago of the Giants. I used only two catchers, but if I used a third it would have been Michael Barrett of Montreal, not Santiago. But Santiago doesn't offend me. His late-career resurrection is a nice story.
Brenly's third and last bad call came in the bullpen, where he picked his own Byung-Hyun Kim, who is fresh off two horrible performances in Houston last week. Those knocked him off my team, given how many good closers there are in the National League. Brenly and I both took Eric Gagne of Los Angeles, Trevor Hoffman of San Diego, and Mike Williams of Pittsburgh. Brenly went deep at the position by also taking Kim and Atlanta's John Smoltz. That means five closers make the squad, which is just as ridiculous as five shortstops making it in the American League.
I left Smoltz off my team, a tough choice because he's saved more one-run games -- 12 -- than anyone else in the majors. Williams and Gagne have each saved nine. (I consider the actual "save" statistic, by the way, absolutely meaningless.) But Smoltz had some blow-ups early in the year, and he has more blown saves (three) than Gagne, Hoffman (one each) and Williams (two).
But don't despair, Braves fans, because my All-Star team has a middle reliever, and it's Mike Remlinger, one of your men. Brenly, of course, chose no relievers who weren't closers. This prejudice must end.
Brenly and I agreed on starters Tom Glavine of Atlanta (my All-Star Game starter), Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson of Arizona, and Odalis Perez of Los Angeles. I also had Pedro Astacio of New York and Vicente Padilla of Philadelphia, while Brenly picked Matt Morris of St. Louis. Those last three are all pretty close, though, and any combination of them making or not making the team would be OK with me. Kip Wells of the Pirates and Roy Oswalt of the Astros were just behind that trio for me.
The five candidates for the last N.L. roster spot at MLB.com are Albert Pujols of St. Louis, Ryan Klesko of San Diego, Larry Walker of Colorado, Giles of Pittsburgh, and Andruw Jones of Atlanta.
As I said, Giles makes my team easily. The man I'd leave off my roster for the fan vote is Castillo, the Marlins' second baseman. The other four candidates I'd give the fans would be Walker, Barrett, the Montreal catcher, and outfielders Pat Burrell of Philadelphia and Cliff Floyd of Florida.
Burrell was on my team two weeks ago, but since then he's gone 7-for-51 to drop off the roster. Same with Jones, who has gone 5-for-40.
It's too bad they have to actually play the game. It's more fun to just argue about who should make the team.