So you thought the Cincinnati All-Star ballot box stuffing scandal was scandalous? Try explaining the San Francisco All-Star ballot box stuffing this year. Once you’ve done that, explain to me how and why a guy (Pablo Sandoval) who’s only played in 44 games with decent numbers gets the fan vote to start at third base over the arguable first-half National League most valuable player (David Wright, New York Mets) who’s carried a team with an injury and inconsistency-wracked offence into the thick of the pennant races. Unless you think a 1.013 OPS through this writing indicates a player worse than one with an .848 OPS.
There were those who thought Texas Rangers fans were trying to stuff the ballot box, too, but if that’s true they somehow didn’t bring it for Elvis Andrus, who’s having a far better season than Derek Jeter, who got the starting nod in the fan vote. We had this argument last year, too, but it’s still valid: The All-Star Game, an exhibition game which has been forged into an instrument for determining the World Series’ home field advantage, should not be considered a gold watch honouring great careers. Andrus is having a clearly superior season to Jeter and should have gotten the starting nod. If not Andrus, then perhaps Asdrubal Cabrera (Cleveland Indians).
There’s no question but what Jeter is a Hall of Famer in waiting, and that’s where you honour his career accomplishments. You don’t give him a starting berth in the All-Star Game to honour them. That was my story last year, it’s my story this year, and I’m not bending an inch on it. Further evidence for the prosecution: Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves). There’s absolutely no question he’s a Hall of Famer in waiting. He didn’t get the fan vote—beloved though he is in Atlanta, the fans down there aren’t dumb enough to make an All-Star out of someone who isn’t having an All-Star caliber season—and he’s probably not likely to make the fans’ last-man vote, either.
A seven-time All-Star in a nineteen-year Cooperstown career probably isn’t going to complain. Jones is having a slightly lesser season in one less game (through this writing) than Kung Fu Panda but he (and anyone else playing third base in the National League this season to date) isn’t anywhere near Wright. He isn’t even anywhere near David Freese (St. Louis Cardinals, who’s on the last-man ballot), and Freese probably should be on the team.
Did I say Atlanta fans aren’t dumb enough to make an All-Star out of someone who isn’t having an All-Star caliber season? Oops. Dan Uggla’s been voted the National League’s starting second baseman. He of the .777 OPS (through this writing). Aaron Hill (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati Reds) should be filing grievances.
The fans aren’t the only ones whose choices range from the ridiculous to the don’t-even-think-about it. Someone ought to be made to explain how Johnny Cueto (Reds) doesn’t make an All-Star team when compiling a 2.27 earned run average despite his home park being heaven on earth for hitters.
Actually, you almost can explain it: Tony La Russa—managing the NL All-Stars because he won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals last fall—probably still hasn’t forgiven Cueto for the bench-clearing brawl, launched in 2010 when Phillips and Yadier Molina had words at the plate (Phillips greeted Molina politely after he’d been quoted in the press as calling the Cardinals “little bitches”), in which Cueto, pinned to the fence (and admitting later he was terrified), kicked his way out of the mob, including one to Jason LaRue that landed LaRue a concussion and ended his baseball career.
La Russa’s playing a clever public game on it, suggesting Reds manager Dusty Baker’s rotation planning might have kept Cueto out of the Game, but don’t kid yourself that ending the career of one of his veteran spare parts, even if it wasn’t deliberate, didn’t play into La Russa’s own thinking in not reaching to Cueto for the All-Stars. Especially when he was faced with picking among several worthy candidates. There’s no question La Russa plays to win, but even with that he wouldn’t necessarily be below sending a message about what he thinks are or were the right and wrong ways to play the game.
And someone ought to suggest the players, who elect a good number of the reserves, cast their votes later than they do. It didn’t hurt Wright, who was chosen by the players as Sandoval’s backup. (Mets GM Sandy Alderson on Twitter: “A city of 8 million loses to a city of 800,000.) But how does someone like Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals: great season’s start, now 27th in the league in ERA) or Bryan LaHair (Chicago Cubs: hit .338 through 3 May; .236/.313/.389 since, and did I mention he has only 28 runs batted in through this writing) get a roster spot over Cueto, Paul Goldschmidt, Adam LaRoche, Austin Jackson, James McDonald, Zack Greinke, or Madison Bumgarner?
The good news: There’s always the chance for justice if and when factors such as injuries or schedule-related pullouts occur between now and the end of the first half. Which should raise an intriguing condundrum in the last-man voting: Do you pick Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) or Michael Bourn (Braves) in the National League? Either of these two guys are having lovely seasons with or without the attention crowding Harper. Either of these two guys could make an intriguing mid-to-late-game insertion and, theoretically, turn the thing around with one well-timed swing or one well-timed grab in the field.
And, in the American League, do you pick Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox), whose first half marks him as deserving; or, do you pick another out-of-nowhere guy, Ernesto Frieri (Los Angeles Angels), whom nobody’s been able to pry a run out of in 23 innings since his callup and who just might be the one you need if you’re Ron Washington and the AL’s home-field Series advantage is on the line?
The move La Russa should make, no questions asked: There’s no question who the National League’s starting pitcher should be. The fact that his preponderant and money pitch is a knuckleball shouldn’t sway anyone otherwise. R.A. Dickey has a first-half 2012 resume that resembles a Sandy Koufax, or a Juan Marichal, or a Bob Gibson, or a Tom Seaver. For awhile he ran neck-and-neck with San Francisco’s Matt Cain as the National League’s best pitcher in the first half, but Dickey’s left Cain just enough behind now.
Here’s his line through this writing: A 12-1 won-lost record; his twelve wins lead the Show. a .923 winning percentage—again leading the Show. A 0.885 walks/hits per inning pitched rate—tops in the National League. Three complete games, two shutouts (both one-hitters, by the way)—tops in the league again. This is Dickey playing in Koufax country, ladies and gentlemen.
La Russa has made a little sound amounting to Dickey’s late-career emergence and how he’d incline a little bit toward a guy who’s got a slightly longer major league resume. That should have nothing to do with his thinking, if that’s part of this thinking, unless he’s forgotten how many rookies make All-Star teams and always have. He can look no further than the American League, where Mike Trout (Angels)—who wasn’t even on the fan ballot thanks to his latter-spring callup—was voted in as a reserve.