*We now go live to the disjointed ramblings of a medicated insomniac at two o'clock in the morning.*
Every time the All-Star Game rolls around, we get conversations about snubs and duds and questions about qualifications. What's your criteria for selecting an All-Star? This season? The past season-plus? Career merit? Some crazy amalgamation thereof?
It's mostly fun pablum, but pablum nonetheless; empty and full of platitudes, but towards the time when the votes are rolling in, we all have a tendency to lean towards our favorites over those who might slightly edge them out otherwise. I voted for Troy Tulowitzki over Jhonny Peralta. I would have voted for Prince Fielder over Miguel Cabrera if I wasn't so busy voting for Eric Hosmer. And so on.
The fan vote was met with as much antipathy as a Royals national broadcast, an antipathy engendered by reasons that still escape me. One of baseball's smallest markets, through sheer determination, forced its way into a national conversation through rigorous support of its team. They rallied and organized and spread the word to get more votes and more support for the guys on the team that they root for. Regardless of the outcome, it should have been hailed as a triumph, the most recent example of baseball's ability to unite a community for a common purpose.
Instead, we were subjected to a month of questions about tampering and cheating, followed by belittling remarks and backhanded articles about substance and character and rectitude. Even after the vote concluded, the talking points have shifted to selection worthiness, continuing to wonder if something funny wasn't going on, and slighting those that were voted in.
I wasn't a fan of the idea of voting for Omar Infante, mostly for reasons like this:
Clayton Kershaw is not some random jabroni. He is The Best Pitcher In The World, earning every one of those capital letters with a five-year run that stands with the best in the game’s history. And because his earned-run average happens to be a tick over 3.00 – because looking past that number and at the peripherals that say he has pitched every bit as well, if not better than, all of his past seasons except last year’s MVP-winning campaign seemed to be too difficult a task for those in charge – Kershaw is at the whim of a populace that fell about a half-million votes shy of electing Omar Infante to start the game.
It's not what Passan meant, but this comes off a bit as, "We can't trust the fans to vote in Clayton Kershaw because they nearly voted in Omar Infante." Which, is factually accurate, I suppose, but neglects to mention that Clayton Kershaw was not selected by the players, nor was he selected by the coaches, so it is not as if the guys close to the dirt are doing any better.
And that's his real point. What he is getting at is the idea that the entire process by which players are selected to the All-Star game is fundamentally flawed, and tries to offer up some reasons as to why. The fact that the All-Star Game means something is certainly a problem: letting the uninformed, unwashed masses vote for players who may influence the outcome of a contest like the World's Series is certainly an issue. Having managers hamstrung into selecting scads of relievers, passing over more than qualified starters - like Kershaw, Corey Kluber, and Gerrit Cole - because there is an emphasis on winning the game, waters down what should be baseball's greatest exhibition because of the explicit incentive to win.
Which is odd, because Major League Baseball barely treats it as a real contest, surrounding it with the fanfare of a barnstorming roadshow: Multiple players wear microphones. Announcers chat with players and coaches throughout the game. Players co-mingle, smile at being struck out, shake their heads and laugh at being robbed of hits, and take the game with all of the self-seriousness of a Weird Al cassette.
This odd dichotomy of intent and exhibit is certainly a problem for everyone, except Major League Baseball.
They love the fact that there is a reason to watch the All-Star game outside of "Seeing the best players do the things they do all the time during the season anyway only now they are all doing it together yaaaaaayyyyyyy..." They love that there is now a week's worth of copy to be written, in equal measure, about the number of All-Stars the Royals did and did not get, who got snubbed, who didn't, "Why is Brad Boxberger a thing?", and so on down the line, simply because - as baseball achieves record television audiences and revenues - it is a dying sport again. It's not what it used to be in the eyes of quick-fix, instant gratification America.
The Alex Rodriguez hypocrisy is also pretty funny; To see how writers are trying to qualify him as a worthy All-Star (which he is) while skirting the issue as to why he wasn't voted in (and, to be fair, won't be voted in), while ceasing to mention players like Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta, despite the fact that all three were suspended to start the 2013 season. Sure, Rodriguez was a bigger jerkwad about it, but Ryan Braun - who really is likely to go down as King Douche in terms of how he handled PED accusations - received nearly 400,000 more votes while having a worse offensive season.
But that's it. That's the game. That is everything that the All-Star Game of Major League Baseball - or any other sport that includes a fan component - should be. If we think Alex Rodriguez is a cockabout who should sit out an All-Star Game for trying to be the best player he can possibly be, then fine. Sit down. For once, the fans get to say "No thanks." The catharsis is palpable.
It should be the unofficial slogan of the MLB All-Star Game: Production matters less than politics. Only it isn't, because "This time it matters." I can only imagine that the MLB executive office loops it through the PA, trying to convince itself of the feasibility of thrusting import onto a game played with the original intent of being a fan showcase.
This time it matters. This time it matters. This time, it matters. This time, it matters. This time..