It’s official—Los Angeles Dodgers’ phenom outfielder Yasiel Puig will not be a part of the All-Star Game tomorrow night at Citi Field in New York, nor will Puig be a part of tonight’s Home Run Derby or anything else associated with baseball’s Mid-Summer Classic.
After losing the fan voting for the final spot on the National League team, a minor injury will prevent Puig from taking the place of any other injured National Leaguers. What I’d like to address here is the complete media hysteria that accompanied the ultimately unsuccessful efforts to get Puig into the game.
Whenever the discussion arose of whether Puig should be in the All-Star Game—in spite of having only a month-plus of major league experience under his belt—media members self-righteously declared that Puig was who the fans wanted to see, and that anyone who argued against his inclusion based on such a limited body of work was a killjoy that was responsible for the relegation of baseball to second-class status in the American sports culture.
My own feelings on the subject were mixed. When it came to my personal vote, I wasn’t choosing Puig. For me, I tend to choose the players that I feel have proven themselves to be the best over a 2-3 year period and then just use the first half of the season as a tiebreaker among the candidates. It’s personal preference—given that fan voting starts in mid-May, I don’t like putting a player in the All-Star Game based on what might be just a hot six weeks.
The flip side is that I also believe that this game is about showcasing who the fans want to see. I believe there should be another formal All-Star announcement at the end of the season that can be strictly based on who had the best season. But this Tuesday night in mid-July is about having fun and enjoying the star talent you want to watch (It should not be about settling homefield advantage for the World Series, but that’s for another time). If the star the fans want to watch is Puig, so be it.
Thus we come to MLB’s excellent idea of a fan vote for the final spot on the roster. Whether it’s a great veteran who’s obviously in decline—a 2000 Cal Ripken for example, and probably Derek Jeter over the next 2-3 years—or a rising star like Puig who hasn’t played a lot, I’m all for letting the fans choose someone who might not meet a strict definition of “All-Star”, but should be a part of an event like this.
The problem is, it turns out the fans didn’t want Puig as much as the media did. The fans picked Atlanta first baseman Fredi Freeman, having a solid season and a 2-3 year body of work that tells you he’s highly likely to keep it going.
Media critics complained that Braves fans and Blue Jays fans allied by cross-promoting their players (Toronto reliever Steve Delebar won the vote for the final AL spot). But this is a straw man. I’m a Red Sox fan and get e-mails from the official team website. Guess who the Sawx were promoting? That’s right, it was Yasiel Puig. Whether this cross-promotion is a good idea is a fair question (I don’t really care for it), but Freeman had no built-in advantage over Puig. If anything, you can argue a Dodgers-Red Sox promotion has more marketing oomph behind it than a Braves-Blue Jays one.
Maybe it’s time for the media to just accept the fact that it was they who were demanding to see Puig. Perhaps it’s because most sports media generalists hype the NFL to such an extreme degree that they aren’t aware of baseball talent beyond the headlines of the day. Actual baseball fans are aware of players like Freeman—and Delebar for that matter, who has a 1.71 ERA and been part of a no-name Toronto bullpen that’s been one of that team’s few bright spots.
If the media wants to see Puig, I have no beef with that. They just shouldn’t pretend to be speaking on behalf of all of baseball fandom. The fans wanted Freeman. As for me, I’m more than happy to vote for Puig…next year, when we see how he continues to perform the balance of the season and the first six weeks of 2014.
OTHER ALL-STAR GAME THOUGHTS
TheSportsNotebook will release its own American League and National League All-Star picks this coming Wednesday and Thursday. I’m doing it after the game, because this website’s MLB coverage does what I wish the league itself would do, and it’s build to a year-end All-Star lineup. What you see released this week is treated as just a checkpoint, in the same way we don’t see the standings at the break as the final word.
I thought the fans did a very credible job in picking this year’s lineup, as did the players who choose a portion of the roster themselves. Very few picks really raised an eyebrow. But here are some things that I’d like to see different…
*The Bryce Harper pick to start in the outfield rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not terrible and I understand fans who believe he’s genuinely one of the best three outfielders in the National League. But for me, if I’m going to pick a guy who’s been hurt for a good chunk of the first half, it’s going to be someone with more than one year under his belt.
*I understand a legitimate difference of opinion between picking the players who had the best first halves, and using the 2-3 year window that I favor. But like an umpire’s strike zone, can we at least be consistent?
If it’s about this year, Max Scherzer of Detroit is an obvious choice, while Justin Verlander is equally obvious to not be one. If it’s about a 2-3 year window, reverse that. Both made the roster, although Verlander is an injury scratch with a quad problem that’s likely being exaggerated to get him some time off.
*The change I’d most like to see will be up to American League manager Jim Leyland to implement. Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy is the starting shortstop, and while I don’t think he’s really All-Star caliber, I don’t that any shortstops in the AL are, with Jeter hurt and Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera not playing well.
But there is one man on the Baltimore roster that has played some short, and it’s Manny Machado. In a world without Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, Machado would be a runaway All-Star starter. So why not show come creativity? Let Hardy play the first inning, as he’s required to do, and that put Machado in at short immediately after?
Not only does this solution give fans the fun of seeing Cabrera and Machado on the roster at the same time, but it would have then made sense for Evan Longoria to be chosen as the Tampa Bay representative, rather than an underperforming Ben Zobrist.