Jeff Samardzija should show up to the All-Star Game in one of those sewn-together jerseys that moms of professional athletes wear when their sons play against each other. On one side, he can sport the National League out of respect for the players who voted him in, and on the other, he can represent the American League since that's where he plays these days.
If Major League Baseball isn't going to let him play – and, as of now, it has ruled Samardzija ineligible for the July 15 game because he had the temerity to get traded between leagues – he should at least have some fun with it. Because that's when the Midsummer Classic is at its greatest: When fun is the imperative.
Baseball's All-Star Game is the greatest in professional sports, and it's not close, and yet the air of seriousness that pervades it on account of the game counting for home-field advantage in the World Series likely deadens the possibility of Samardzija pitching for the AL, which is a shame, because seeing him throw against the very players who voted him into the game would make for wonderful theater.
MLB's rationale behind sidelining Samardzija makes sense. The only way to put him on the roster is for manager John Farrell to choose him, and he already snubbed enough great pitchers that he's not going to bring in some carpetbagger. Creating a special slot for Samardzija would make for uneven rosters, and when home field is at stake, advantages cannot exist without inviting charges of bias.
At the same time, MLB allows fans to pick the starters. And managers to run the game like it's the first week of spring training, with a new pitcher every inning and pinch hitters galore. And some of the league's best pitchers to miss the game if they threw the Sunday before. And utilitymen to be picked over far, far more worthy candidates. (More on that later.)
Following the 2002 tie, MLB commissioner Bud Selig wanted to give meaning to the game. This was worth a shot. The previous way of determining home field – alternating league by year – was nearly as bad. Fact is, too much of the All-Star Game remains exhibition-like to keep pretending that it warrants something as significant as home field.
One nine- (or 10- or 11- or however-many-) inning game should not supersede the toil of 162. Fans should not argue that Derek Jeter doesn't deserve to start his final game at shortstop because others have outperformed him this season. The rule beget that incongruity, and it's just as likely to leave …
1. Jeff Samardzija sitting in the AL dugout instead of standing on the mound toward the later innings, where his fastball-splitter combination could well make those who chose him regret that choice. Samardzija wants to pitch, of course, because he's now with the Oakland Athletics and they do indeed want the possibility of spending the entire month of October in the Oakland Coliseum, which is both admirable and masochistic.
Certainly one could argue that Samardzija's selection by his peers came on the strength of a great first seven weeks, when he sported an ERA about half the 2.83 he had over 17 starts with the Chicago Cubs. His candidacy is close enough to keep him from the list of the undeserving, which, as with every All-Star Game, is rather distinguished. The fact that …
2. Chris Sale is not an American League All-Star when he's got a better case than, oh, about two dozen of his would-be teammates speaks to how even players and managers – the two sets of people closer to the game than anyone – can whiff badly.
NL voters saw it fit to include Clayton Kershaw in their activities despite time spent on the disabled list. Sale did not receive the same benefit of the doubt, seeing as their numbers are oddly similar:
|GS||IP||W-L||CG||Opponents batting ||ERA+|
Kershaw has the no-hitter. And the crazy 115-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which isn't a whole lot better than Sale's 96-to-16 mark. This is not to say Sale is Kershaw. Nobody is.
In that next echelon, though, Sale fits as well as anyone, and he deserves the spot Masahiro Tanaka will vacate because of his start on July 13 far more than Koji Uehara, who is no slouch himself. That's how good Sale is, and it's what …
3. Garrett Richards must contend with in the Final Vote running online this week. The starting-pitching depth in the AL is ridiculous, and it makes you wish the 26-year-old Richards pitched in the NL, where he probably would’ve made the team in the first place, and if not, surely would have with Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Julio Teheran and Tyson Ross all scheduled to start Sunday and in need of replacements.
The list of unhittable pitchers this season, by opponents’ OPS, goes like this: Cueto, Felix Hernandez, Sale, Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kerhsaw and Richards, against whom opponents are hitting .196/.274/.262. That slugging percentage against is the single worst for hitters in the major leagues.
So, yes, we now have a scenario in which one of the best pitchers in the big leagues as well as the one against whom hitters turn into the most complete weaklings are not All-Stars. Awesome. Thanks a lot …
4. John Farrell for completely screwing that one up. Except, uh, he sort of didn’t. The Red Sox’s manager received eight choices. He went with:
• Jon Lester, SP: His ace in Boston and well-deserving. Right call.
• David Price, SP: Throwing as well as anyone not named Kershaw. Right call.
• Max Scherzer, SP: Last year’s Cy Young winner pitching about the same, only with a 60-point spike in batting average on balls in play. Sale or Richards could have a better case. Understandable call.
• Glen Perkins, RP: From Twin Cities area, incredible peripherals, totally warranted call.
• Derek Norris, C: Best offensive catcher in the league. Right call.
• Kurt Suzuki, C: Pandering to hometown crowd with another Twin. He’s been good, and with the AL in need of a third catcher, understandable call.
• Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: Monster power, most total bases in the league. Right call.
• Brandon Moss, 1B/DH: Having a great year. Also happens to play a position overloaded with great hitters. Wrong call.
It’s a lot better showing than …
5. Mike Matheny made with his nine picks as NL manager. To the mess:
• Zack Greinke, SP: Strong choice. Right call.
• Julio Teheran, SP: Kid's only 23. He should see a few more of these. Right call.
• Tyson Ross, SP: I like Tyson Ross. He may be the third-best starter on his team. Wrong call.
• Devin Mesoraco, C: Sneaky-good pick. The difficult balance is between picking the stars (like, say, Buster Posey) and the breakouts. Mesoraco and his .634 slugging percentage qualify as the latter. Right call.
• Matt Carpenter, 3B: Over Anthony Rendon. Classic manager-picks-his-guy case. Wrong call.
• Pat Neshek, RP: Speaking of manager-picks-his-guy cases … this isn't one of them. Dominant and deserving. Understandable call.
• Tony Watson, RP: Another lockdown middle reliever with whom it's hard to quibble, though Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano have more than ample reason to argue otherwise. Understandable call.
• Daniel Murphy, 2B: Had to pick a Met, so with that caveat, good call. A genius call, actually, when standing next to …
6. Josh Harrison, National League All-Star. It is true. Josh Harrison, whose 27th birthday is Tuesday, who last season during the Pittsburgh Pirates' playoff run cobbled together all of 95 plate appearances, whose career on-base percentage remains under .300, a National League All-Star.
Surely the greatest part of All-Star selection Sunday was the discovery of this headline on Bucs Dugout: "Clint Hurdle sees Josh Harrison as possible future utility middle infielder."
The Pirates' manager: "Possible future utility middle infielder."
Mike Matheny: "All-Star!"
Look, Harrison is a great story, and grinders like him who make good deserve appreciation and recognition. It does not make them All-Stars. Harrison is a .298/.335/.453 hitter this season. He plays a bunch of positions. This makes him valuable. Again: It does not make him an All-Star, not when it snubbed a handful of far superior players.
There is no salient argument to make on behalf of Harrison when all the facts are considered. No longer does a Swiss Army utilityman seem like a prerequisite for each manager, seeing as the AL didn't pick one. All of the adjectives used to describe Harrison – sparkplug is a favorite – tend to fall into the grit/grind/scrap family. Perhaps he should hire Babip, Pecota, Vorp and Eckstein to construct a greater argument on his behalf. It would be nice if his numbers did what …
7. Kyle Seager's do, which is advocate strongly on his behalf. Neither the AL's starting third baseman, Josh Donaldson, nor the NL's, Aramis Ramirez, come into the game with the best offensive numbers at their position. At least the NL players chose Todd Frazier to back up Ramirez.
Seager, whose .274/.347/.483 slash line playing home in the monstrous Safeco Field gives him a 139 to 120 OPS+ advantage over Donaldson, should be in Minneapolis – and will be, if John Farrell uses his mulligan properly. With Encarnacion's strained quad likely to keep him out of the game, Farrell can fortify his infield with Seager. He could go another route, too. Among Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez, Encarnacion and Moss, four players at David Ortiz's position were chosen and he wasn't. Skipping him again isn't the sort of things managers want to do to their players, which, mind you, is the sort of thing that leads to the pervasive …
8. Snubbery this time of year.
There are the egregious ones in the AL: Sale the worst, Richards and Seager right up there, Corey Kluber and Ian Kinsler in the same breath, with a litany of relief pitchers – Wade Davis, Fernando Rodney, Joakim Soria, Zach Britton and his 80 percent groundball rate – not far behind.
The NL isn't quite as bad. Its worst snub – outfielder Giancarlo Stanton not starting – will be remedied easily when Matheny DHs him. The rest of the snubs, henceforth known as Not Josh Harrison, include …
9. Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Rendon, mainly, with a smattering of Justin Morneau and Justin Upton and Casey McGehee. They're the five in the NL Final Vote, and each makes a decent-enough case.
Rizzo is the best hitter, Rendon the best player, Morneau the best story (by far, with his whole career prior to this season spent with the Twins, not to mention with the backing of Canada likely to thrust him to the win). Upton should've been voted in by his peers instead of Charlie Blackmon – either him or Ryan Braun or Seth Smith – while McGehee brings the NL lead in base hits, a great nickname (Hits McGehee) and a proclivity for driving in runs without hitting home runs unseen in baseball since the days of Pie Traynor.
Whoever wins the online vote, it would be fun to see him up against …
10. Jeff Samardzija in one of those instances baseball fans would appreciate. Baseball is a weird game filled with quirks, and this would represent another: the time a National League All-Star pitched for the American League team.
MLB cares about its All-Star Game more than the other sports, and as it turns into a game more and more parochial and less and less engaging of a national audience, it should at least give consideration to the idea. It’s not the sort of thing that’s going to juice ratings short-term or cause a social-media hullaballoo. It’s just a moment, a cool moment, a fun moment, the sort of moment that may well sear itself into someone’s mind.
And that’s the whole point of the All-Star Game, isn’t it? To give Derek Jeter a proper sendoff on a national scale in case the Yankees don’t make the postseason. To create indelible memories not because of the stakes but because the game doesn’t need stakes to do so.
Anyone who focuses on an imbalance with a game that rosters 34 players should consider something else to worry about. This is the All-Star Game. Let it be fun. The imperative is simple, the motto clear.
Let Shark pitch.