The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is supposed to be an exhibition. A bit of pageantry mixed with big names in the boring part of the sporting calendar in the middle of summer. However, any number of factors — namely the rise of MLB.tv and cable — have made the All-Star game feel like old hat. The chance to see a player from outside your local market was cool in 1963, much less so in 2013.
On top of that, ever since the 2002 All-Star Game finished in a 7-7 tie, MLB commish Bud Selig has scrambled to make the Midsummer Classic relevant again. The best idea MLB could cook up was turning an exhibition game into the deciding factor for homefield advantage in the World Series. While not the dumbest idea in recent sports history, it’s on the short list.
Since 2002 MLB has let fans vote for the final member of each league’s roster. This year the National League at least has Dodgers’ rookie sensation Yasiel Puig on the ballot, although he’s currently behind the Braves’ Freddie Freeman. (Huh?) Meanwhile in the American League we get five right-handed relievers vying for a spot at Citi Field next Tuesday:
- Joaquin Benoit: 1.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP 46 Ks/36.1 IP
- Steve Delabar: 1.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 57 Ks/40 IP
- David Robertson: 2.23 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 46 Ks/36.1 IP
- Tanner Scheppers: 1.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 29 Ks/43 IP
- Koji Uehara: 1.93 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 53 Ks/37.1 IP
As easy as it is to poke fun at the final ballot or its silly hashtags (i.e. #TakeTanner) or wonder why guys like Adrian Beltre or Josh Donaldson or most bizarrely A’s closer Grant Balfour were left off the last-man vote, it’s a product of the game actually counting for something. Remember, the American League will be managed by Jim Leyland and once again the Tigers have a definite shot to reach the World Series, meaning he’ll treat the late innings as if it’s a real game. Having relief pitchers who are used to coming into pressure spots in the sixth inning and onward as opposed to a starting pitcher in an unfamiliar role is a new reality at the All-Star Game. (Mark it down, we’ll see a late-inning sac-bunt in this year.)
Fans at home watching the game might not be clamoring to see any of the above five players toe the slab, but from a baseball sense it does make some sense to honor the set-up men since they end up having a huge impact on the season despite being mostly anonymous outside their home ballparks. The American League roster already includes two set-up pitchers before the final vote: Toronto’s Brett Cecil and Chicago’s Jesse Crain.
As of Tuesday, Delabar is leading the fan vote over Uehara on the Facebook poll. (Never doubt the Canadian voting block.) MLB has even created a voting map of America for the race to show where votes are coming from.
Still, it’s a marvel how baseball was able to turn a simple, fun, lighthearted exhibition every July into what it is currently, along with all the endless “controversies” that hover over the game.
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