The Unfair Classic
As Comrade Knauss points out, other than the U.S. Constitution there is no better American tradition than baseball on the Fourth of July. But simultaneous to that celebration of America’s summertime sport, there’s usually another tradition: people complaining about who didn’t make the All-Star Game rosters.
I’m not going to be one of those people, not because I don’t care but because I’ve just given up. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. The All-Star Game rosters are, year in and year out, camels. With scraggly teeth. Who spit at you.
First come the fan votes, in which people are encouraged to punch paper ballots at ballparks or (embracing new technology!) vote up to 30 times per e-mail address via the Web. Seems kind of fishy, especially when teams create bizarre vote-swapping alliances. And of course, fans tend not to vote for the best players right now, but for names they recognize. As a result, some of the best young players in the game end up being substitutes, not starters. And old stars are rewarded for their career (and not their current sliding stats) with starting slots.
This is why, though I can give some stick to my friends who are Yankee fans, I really can’t get too upset about Derek Jeter starting the All-Star Game. There are at least ten American League shortstops having better seasons than Derek Jeter. He’s not even in the top half. He’s having an awful year. But he’s a familiar name. Lots of fading stars have gotten an All-Star Game valedictory. Does Derek Jeter deserve less?
After the starters are selected, the players pick the next 16 All-Stars, a selection process featuring a voting panel probably similar in composition to the one that makes up the weekly College Football Coaches’ Poll — in other words, a group so focused on doing their own jobs that they probably don’t closely follow what everyone else is doing. Again, this is a round more likely to reward reputation than current stats. But I’m over it. It’s called the All-Star Game, not the All First-Half Achievers Game.
Then the managers finally get to make some picks, but they’ve got to fill all their missing roster spots and ensure that every team has at least one player represented. This makes it almost inevitable that someone deserving player will get shut out. For every Ryan Vogelsong — and seriously, you will not find a better feel-good All Star than he — there’s an Andrew McCutchen.
You may not have heard of Andrew McCutchen. He plays in Pittsburgh, which explains why. Usually the Pirates are one of those teams who have an undeserving player make the All-Star Game roster because, well, it’s the rules! But McCutchen is one of the best players in the National League, and he’s been passed over for two years in a row.
If you look at the league leaders in Wins Above Replacement, a useful all-purpose stat, you’ll find that only two position players have had a better first half than McCutchen: Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes. Take defense out of the equation and he’s still among the top 15, across both leagues.
I could get worked up in a lather over McCutchen getting overlooked again, but as I said before, I’ve given up. Instead, I’m going to accept that Andrew McCutchen, like fireworks, ice-cream sandwiches, and hot dogs, is a part of the glorious tapestry that is an American summer.
He’s being talked about more now than he probably ever has before in his career. He’s the latest entry in one of our most cherished baseball traditions. He’s this summer’s All-Star oversight. The game wouldn’t be the same without one.
[Andrew McCutchen photo by Brock Fleeger/Flickr]