Baseball’s All-Star Game the most competitive exhibition
Game in Seattle provides best All-Star event of all the pro sports
The moment that NL leadoff man Luis Arraez steps into the batter’s box, next Tuesday, to begin the Major-League All-Star Game in Seattle, facing whoever is named the AL starter, likely Framber Valdez or Nate Eovaldi, it will be “game on” for both hitter and pitcher. That’s the beauty of baseball’s midsummer classic. The opening one-on-one and all at-bats thereafter will be as focused as they are for any regular-season game. They are playing to be at their best, against the best.
What about the other major sports and their all-star games? The NBA’s all-star contest has become a yawn-inducing exhibition of who can sink the deepest three-pointer, who can invent the most outlandish dunk, who can wear the coolest shoes and who can play the least defence.
The NHL game has had so many format changes in recent years to try and make it interesting to discerning fans that, now, viewers always expect more and receive less. Cover your eyes, kids! That is not how we want you to play! It’s become an embarrassment – to pond hockey.
As for the NFL’s Pro Bowl, they can seemingly only attract the best players as long as the locale is conducive to a superstar vacation – also, as long as they’re not asked to hit anybody too hard.
But baseball always has benefitted from the reality of just one spotlight at a time and it is forever focused on a pitcher vs. hitter matchup. That 27-out mano-a-mano is what makes baseball’s all-stars compelling and worth the watch.
Is there an MLB all-star conspiracy geared towards Canadian fans?
Those that work in North American sports media realized long ago that Canadians love to vote on the Internet for anything, especially if it involves their favourite sports teams.
When Jose Bautista was dominating all-star voting back in the years 2011-14, he realized that it wasn’t necessarily because he was the best player in all of baseball. “It’s great having two entire countries voting for me,” the star right fielder said, referring with appreciation to the support he received from both Canada and his native Dominican Republic.
That true north addiction to strong and free Internet voting propelled Josh Donaldson to the top all-star vote total in 2015 and is what earned unlikely “Final Vote” AL spots for a couple of Jays winners, reliever Steve Delabar in 2013 and outfielder Michael Saunders in 2016.
Like the Grinch and his Seuss-ian obsession about stopping Christmas from coming, so has MLB stepped up to stop more Blue Jays from coming. Bah, humbug!
It used to be when the all-star voting went online that there was an All-Star process in which the nine-man lineup of position-players was determined by a simple online fan-poll, while the rest of the 33 or 34-man squad, including pitchers, was a combination of player-voting and, finally, the commissioner’s office, often required to fill the mandate that requires at least one player from each of the 15 teams be included.
The first aspect that changed for MLB to improve the process was when they realized that the single daily vote rule resulted in not enough votes being cast to impress the rest of the sports world, making baseball seem less popular among North American fans than they would have preferred.
That was when MLB went to an “all-rogue-democracy” with all-star voting, allowing fans up to 10 votes every 24 hours for all separate email addresses. Canadian fans caught on to this quickly and flooded MLB with votes. When you consider Canada’s total population is 40-million, compared to the U.S. at 337-million, clearly Canada’s impact has always been disproportionate.
The solution to a perceived problem from the commissioner’s office was at some point to take away the straight up fan-voting winner as a starter, as it had been in the past, and introduce a Phase 2 to un-level the playing field.
Yeah, yeah, in this year’s Phase 1 you can still vote five times per day, per separate address, but once baseball has run up a suitably impressive number of early votes to wave in front of the sports world, a number that they can point to, puff their chests and be proud, then they cagily found a way to nullify the Canadian influence.
In Phase 2 of All-Star fan voting, the process is now extended to allow a quick 72-hour run-off election between the top two finishers at each position as determined in the earlier multi-vote period. This Phase 2 quietly went from noon eastern on Monday to noon eastern on Thursday and allowed just one vote per day. It is basically the equivalent of pitting 40-million enthusiastic but now-restricted Canadians vs. 337-million potential voters in the U.S. of A. What do YOU think is the result?
That imbalance helps explain why there were five head-to-head finalists from the Blue Jays – 1B Vlad Guerrero Jr., SS Bo Bichette, 2B Whit Merrifield, 3B Matt Chapman and OF Kevin Kiermaier – and none of them went on in the second vote to became a starter. It’s why in future years, unless someone on the Jays like Vlad or Bo happens to have a stunning half-season, numbers that simply cannot be denied, the team will be challenged in the future to get any starting position players.
Major-League All-Star Notes
*The commissioner has the ability to add a player to the all-star roster of each league on special merit, that does not count against the number already allowed. Last season it was Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. This year if should be RH Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and future Hall-of-Famer, Cabrera, for a second and final time.
*Leading MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani is slated to start on Tuesday for the Angels and likely again in five days, which would be Sunday at the Dodgers. That would mean his only role at the All-Star Game could be as the starting DH – which is good enough. But he can likely be replaced as a pitcher and it could be either a starter or reliever from any team. Now it’s another Angel, CF Mike Trout, out with a hamate injury.
*Both all-stars Framber Valdez (Astros) and Nathan Eovaldi (Rangers) are scheduled to start for their teams on Thursday, which lines them up on their fifth day for the Tuesday game in Seattle on regular rest. It would make sense, if Ohtani is not going to pitch in the game for manager Dusty Baker to reward his own guy, Valdez, with the start for the American League.
*This will be Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s second Home Run Derby on Monday night, joining Mookie Betts, Pete Alonso, Randy Arozarena, Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman.
Don’t expect Vlad to reach the record 91 homers that he crushed in 2019, when he lost as an exhausted rookie to Alonso of the Mets. Back then, he batted first in all of his rounds, meaning that he had to set a home run bar for his opponent, instead of being able to eclipse his competitor’s number, then being able to stop and catch his breath for the next round.
There will be a unique aspect to Guerrero’s second attempt. Four years ago in Cleveland, his pitcher for the event was coach John Schneider. This year Schneider will throw again, but will be the first sitting manager to throw in the Derby.
*There are currently 14 MLB teams sending just one player to the all-star game, some surprising, some not so much. That will change later with the addition of injury replacements. Tigers - RHP Michael Lorenzen; A’s - DH Brent Rooker; Brewers - RHP Devin Williams; Cards - 3B Nolan Arenado; Giants - RHP Camilo Doval; M’s - RHP Luis Castillo; Mets - 1B Pete Alonso; Nats - RHP Josiah Gray; Phils - OF Nick Castellanos; Twins - RF Sonny Gray; Royals - C Sal Perez; Pirates - RHP Mitch Keller; Red Sox - RHP Kenley Jansen; White Sox - OF Luis Robert Jr.