The Windup: Thoughts on this year's All-Star selections
You can comb over the rosters for next week's All-Star Game and pick out the surprises and the snubs, but the truth is, with 32 players on each team, there shouldn't be a lot of one or the other. And with all the fingers in this thing -- the fans, the players, the managers, their coaches, their next-door neighbors, the lady at the dry cleaners, the guy behind the fast-food counter -- it's hard to find someone to blame/credit anyway, even if you have beefs/praise.
Here, though, are three truths you can't escape when it comes to All-Star voting:
1) The fans aren't perfect
But, of course, the fans aren't expected to be perfect. They vote with their hearts for who they want to see in the game, not necessarily who deserves to be in based on some ever-changing idea of merit. That explains, of course, why Seattle's Ichiro, in the middle of the worst season of his career (his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are way below his career marks), is an American League starter. It also explains Boston's Manny Ramirez and the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano as starters.
If that's who fans want to see start this exhibition game, well, that's great. The job is done. The merit part of this equation, if there is to be one, then falls to the players and the manager. Only ...
2) The players aren't perfect, either
How do the AL players -- who supposedly are a little more savvy about merit than the punch-happy fans -- vote in catcher Jason Varitek as Joe Mauer's backup? Have you seen Varitek's numbers this year? A .218 batting average, a .300 OBP. Not pretty. And I can't think his ability to handle a pitching staff is so much greater than anyone else's that the players should have tabbed him over, specifically, A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox (or, for that matter, Tampa Bay's Dioner Navarro). Pierzynski's prize is a few days off to play golf, which is nice. But the guy should be in New York.
And how do the National League players snub Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, instead putting L.A's Russell Martin in as rookie Geovany Soto's backup? I love Martin and his game, and I'll admit that this is a tough call. But you have to take McCann's power over a few more walks, don't you? Merit-wise, I mean?
There are other funny non-picks, too. I'd have loved to see the players choose Toronto pitcher Shaun Marcum -- he has the third-lowest WHIP in the majors. Or Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (who is No. 4). Still, if Toronto's only going to have one All-Star, I guess it should be Roy Halladay, and Hamels was squeezed by the requirement that every team have at least one All-Star, and the Phillies already had two (Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge). The players have a difficult job, no doubt. Though it's not nearly as hard as ...
3) The managers have a thankless task
It was up to Boston's Terry Francona, for the AL, and Colorado's Clint Hurdle for the NL, to fill in the blanks. And with the limited powers that they had, after the fans and players and Major League Baseball had their say, both managers managed to do a decent job.
"My wish is that every other manager in the major leagues would have this opportunity because they would have a lot more respect for the position that you're put in, in trying to make some challenging decisions," Hurdle told TBS on Sunday. "Lobbying and external opinions don't help any. There's a lot of information out there and sometimes too much information is not a good thing."
Francona, last week in St. Petersburg, addressed the problems facing All-Star managers.
"I think the only people who appreciate it are the guys who have done it," he said. "One of the toughest things that's going to develop, from where I sit, is [the success of] Tampa ... it's not necessarily translating into votes from fans."
Francona was dead on in his early assessment of the voting. Even with the best record in the majors, the fans didn't vote a single Rays player into the starting lineup. The players picked only one -- pitcher Scott Kazmir.
So Francona, feeling a responsibility to get Tampa Bay represented, picked another Rays player -- deserving catcher Navarro. Francona had only one other choice to make, and with it he grabbed Twins closer Joe Nathan. All of Francona's other picks had to be filled with the MLB-mandated sole representatives for teams; the Royals (Francona took closer Joakim Soria), the Orioles (closer George Sherrill), the A's (starting pitcher Justin Duchscherer) and the Tigers (first baseman Carlos Guillen).
After Hurdle got past his must-picks, he made up for the players' miss by picking McCann, then added St. Louis' Albert Pujols, Arizona pitcher Dan Haren (how did the players miss him?), Rockies' starter Aaron Cook and Cubs' starter Carlos Zambrano.
It's never a clean process, this All-Star selection thing. And it's not over yet. The last man on each roster will be determined by an Internet vote over on MLB.com. There will be players who drop out with mysterious "injuries" -- they'll have to be replaced.
In the end, we'll have a representative group from each league playing next Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, a game filled with the familiar (seven players from the Red Sox and the Cubs) and the new (25 first-timers). With not a whole lot of snubs or surprises in the bunch.