Not-So Random Thoughts on the All-Star Game

I have to admit that I watched the segments of last night’s game when Jeter and A-Rod hit, Mariano’s stint, and a few innings on the whole. I got in right at the start after GLG’s softball team won an amazing game, 5-4 against a team that had beaten them by 10 runs three weeks ago. Good pitching, timely hitting, and good fielding–including an amazing catch on a blast to the outfield to end the top of the first and stop the opponents’ rally at two runs–carried the day. GLG was 0-1 with two walks and a run, and is just such a heady player. Playing left field, she ran in–on her own–to prevent a runner from taking third when the third baseman mishandled an overthrow from the outfield. Afterwards, the parents presented us coaches with rather pricey gift certificates to a local sporting goods store as thanks for coaching, which was touching as well as being an exceedingly nice gesture. A great night all around.

On the game, I’d be lying if I said I care a lot about All-Star games on the whole. They’re exhibitions and, while having provided many great moments over the years–Carl Hubbell’s fanning five straight future Hall of Famers (Babe, Gehrig, Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin) in 1934, Ted Williams’ walk-off homer in his tremendous 1941, for me Dave parker gunning out Jim Rice at third on the fly from deep right in 1979 in Seattle, and on and on–I just don’t invest myself much for exhibitions. I say this because I think–as I have thought right from the beginning–that the whole, lame, PR-drive by FAUX “now it means something” marketing drive to affix World Series home-field advantage to the outcome of the All-Star game is such a pathetically insipid load of unvarnished nonsense (apologies to any who feel otherwise) that it makes watching the game all the more laborious for me. Even worse, that this allegedly important outcome, combined with the PR blasting that Bud Zelig took when he allowed the 2002 All-Star game (in his home base of Milwaukee no less) to end in a tie, resulted in players going 15 innings into the wee hours of the morning makes baseball’s PR ruse nothing short of ridiculous. Imagine if someone got hurt running, pitching, or hitting in extra innings of a (still) meaningless exhibition. What a colossal joke.

In the eighth, when Jonathan Papelbon was greeted with boos, a loud chorus of “Ma-ri-a-no!” chants, and got even more roundly booed after surrendering a run after teammate JD Drew tied the game with a two-run homer, was really something. I don’t consider all the booing a “proud” moment for Yankees fans, but the pro-Mariano cheering I do. I think Papelbon handled himself like a total, selfish zero during the run-up to the All-Star game, speaking out of both sides of his puckered mouth by saying on the one hand that his having closed and won a World Series entitled him to close the All-Star game and, saying before and after that, that Mariano deserved to close as the “godfather of closers,” was so puerile, so ham-handedly unprofessional, as to elicit such a harsh reaction in Yankee Stadium, the House That Ruth Built But Mariano Closes. That’s not an unjustified comparison by any stretch, to me. Mariano, in my opinion, is to closers and baseball what Babe Ruth was to home runs and baseball–a giant and, for what he does–THE GIANT. No one else, not Eckersley, not Fingers, not Gossage, not Spahn as a reliever, comes close to me. No one has dominated as he has and, for this to have been an issue at the last All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, will no doubt earn Papelbon rousing choruses of boos in New York for the rest of his career.  Would it have been different in Boston if the situation were reversed? Not a chance. The guy is an idiot, even referring to himself in the third person when discussing his much-cherished competitiveness a couple days ago as justification for he’d choose himself to close. Great pitcher, total dork and, in two important ways–not nor will he ever be Mariano–greatness and humility. Mariano is intimidation through ability with comportment personified. He has that ability to not just overwhelm batters, but to escape jams with seeming ease, as he did last night. He also has dominated on the World Series stage more than any other reliever, and in greater fashion in the playoffs, in history by far. Watch how people react to him, not just opposing batters but his own teammates, his outfielders last night even gathering together to watch him enter the game and soak in the crowd’s overwhelming reaction.  The latter facet–his humility–sets him apart just as much. Could anyone ever imagine Mariano contesting who should close Fenway Park were it closing, and were a Boston reliever the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game? Papelbon got humbled last night and, watching him walk off the mound with his head down to a sea of boos, he knew it. Speaking of what Papelbon knew, if what Pete Abraham reports is true, that Mariano knew days ago from a conversation with Girardi via Terry Francona that he would close the All-Star game, how did Papelbon not? He must have, making his public caterwauling for the closer position in even poorer taste. It makes no sense to me that Francona would have communicated that important item to Mariano and not to one of his own players, especially since Francona, while known as a players’ manager, has historically been direct enough in his communications.

On the other hand, for Yankees fans who might not like or respect Terry Francona, not only is the guy a terrific manager who’s always had my respect, he should have won naysayers over for how he played to the home crowd with Jeter and A-Rod in their last at-bats. Tremendously thoughtful move from Francona, and I’m not surprised at all.

Great to see Derek Jeter and Yankees fans cheer JD Drew so heartily after his big homer. For fans, I’m sure it sated their desire to see Mariano close, but for them as for Jeter, I suspect it was more than that. They wanted to win, certainly Jeter did and always does, and these players take being teammates seriously, even in an All-Star game. Drew came through big, as did Evan Longoria and others.

Ben Sheets and that heavy gas sure would look good in pinstripes next year–right now, obviously–no?

Was anyone really surprised that Brad Lidge blew the game last night? I wasn’t in the slightest.

I caught the home-run derby the night before, and what Josh Hamilton did was frightening, nearly hitting one out of the ballpark for the first time in Yankee Stadium’s long and storied history. That they reset the home-run totals was a joke. Morneau didn’t deserve to win the title in that spectacle.

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Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 11:11 am  Comments (8)  

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  1. It’s a shame you aren’t that into the All-Star Game. I watched every inning of last night’s game and though the beginning was a little boring it turned out to be one of the most awesome games I’ve ever seen… and the stupid rules were probably the cause of it, b/c the game was forced to play out and gave the players all the initiative they needed to win the game. It was amazing. 15 innings, Francona was down to his absolute last pitcher, Kazmir, who he was planning not to use unless he absolutely had to, which he did, and was probably going to forfeit after another inning considering that he had said that he would not under no circumstances let Kazmir go a certain amount of pitches. You could tell he was in agony in the 15th. He turned his back on the field for a sec and just looked stressed out. After the game, when asked how many pitches it was that Kaz was limited to he joked, “We were going on hours, not pitches.” All in all though, I have to admit Francona has been perfect. He handled everything perfectly and was extremely respectable throughout.
    As for Papelbon, his comments did seem stupid, but he’s a little cocky.. you sometimes have to be in the game, but I honestly didn’t take too much into it. It wasn’t a hell of a big deal. The Yankee fans booed him in return and will likely not stop booing him this season but the whole thing is stupid and overwith.
    This year’s All-Star festivities can not be topped. First Hamilton puts on a monster show in the Home Run Derby, having everyone in the stadium on their feet, cheering for him when he was down to 8 outs in the final, and then the All-Star Game results in an amazing 4 hour 50 minute game that the American League wins with a walk-off sac fly. It is now official: New York does it best.
    http://flairforthedramatic.mlblogs.com

  2. Wow, I just realized how much I wrote… I think your ways are starting to rub off on me J.

  3. i can’t figure out why you think that having home field advantage is “meaningless”. no need to apologize , but i am one of those people who appreciate the all star game- especially last night’s grandeur and spectacle—but then you missed all the good stuff before the game ( congrats on GLG )

    i’ll admit i would have preferred a shorter game- who wouldn’t. if the game had ended in the bottom of the 10th with the bases loaded-mariano getting the W you might have been singing a different song here jason.

    vanessa- wonderful commentary-i think you summed it up.

    …New York, New York…

  4. all that being said though—i forgot to say—the last few innings to me were pretty anti-climactic ( and boring)

  5. mike, you were at that july 4th game against boston right?
    see if you can find yourself in this picture shot with nasa technology. you can zoom in to anything in the shot, which is more like a bunch of shots put into one. waldo is retired, let’s play find mike lol.
    here’s the link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/baseball/mlb/07/08/newyork.yankees/index.html?eref=T1

  6. Vanessa and Mike, I’ve always been that way with all-star games in any sport, whether or not any home-field advantage has been on the line. If they don’t count in the standings, I’m not invested. It isn’t as though I might not enjoy aspects of the spectacle of many superstars on the field, court, or ice at once. But the result matters very little, to me. When A-Rod popped out in the first, my first thought wasn’t to rip A-Rod for a veritable waste of an at-bat, which I’d be inclined to feel in a regular-season or playoff game, but to grab and fold some laundry earlier. If Mariano had ended the game with the W after the 10th, Mike, I would have felt the same way as otherwise–it would have been a very nice and ultimately fitting moment for the Yankees and Yankee Stadium. But I can’t say I was heart-broken about it, either. I don’t mean this in a bad way toward Mariano, whom I respect as much as any Yankee ever, but I didn’t lose any sleep over the AL’s inability to get the W for him. My song would have been the same, in all honesty.

    As far as home-field goes, my sense is this: if I had the choice of home-field or not for the playoffs, I’d take home-field. However, if you asked me if I’d rather be home or be the team playing hotter baseball entering the series, I’d take being the hotter team unless the home team was just devastating at home. Even then, such a team can be bested. Why? Recent history. In 2004, the Yankees were 57-24 at home, but only 3-3 at home in the playoffs. Home-field couldn’t help then stave off their collapse against Boston which, the first three games against NY notwithstanding, was on a tear the second half of the year. The Yanks had home field against Florida in 2003 but got shut down by better pitching and a team on a second-half tear. Home field didn’t help the Tigers in 2006 when their pitchers couldn’t execute pickoffs or simple fielding plays against a Cardinals team that, though 83-79, got hot at the right time–which also won Game 7 in NY against the Mets. I’d propose that many recent teams that won the World Series won not simply when they did have home field, but were playing and were just clearly better. The Red Sox (and for that matter the Yankees) were clearly more well-rounded than the Cardinals. The White Sox were more solid than Houston, the Sox than the Rockies. Home field isn’t irrelevant, but can certainly be overcome as history, especially recent history, has shown.

    Plus, I think that while many players may play the All-Star game with possible home-field in mind for the World Series, my strong sense is that ALL play certainly to win that game to play their best on a big stage. Many teams are out of it now–Pittsburgh, KC, Cleveland, Seattle, Washington, Houston, San Diego–but players from those teams played hard because that’s who they are–competitive athletes. I think that the “enticement” of home field matters very little when the game is on and, historically, when home field wasn’t on the line, teams from each league wanted to win also to prove they were better in its own right. I doubt home field is so compelling an enticement for the players compared with simply wanting to win. I think that’s enough for them–and meaningful for lots of reasons.

    But not for me. For me as a fan, until the game counts in some kind of standings, it’s not a meaningful game. I always want the AL to win, but don’t get down when they lose–or did a billion years ago. I think the Yankees did a tremendous job with the planning, ceremonies, those whom they honored including Steinbrenner, and the fans were into it. I applaud that, am impressed, and wasn’t surprised. I just don’t hang on the outcome of any all-star game in any sport. After the tenth, I shut the game off. I also had a ton of reading and work to do, but probably would have taken or left it anyway.

  7. On the reference bringing my apology Mike, that was mainly regarding affixing the outcome of the All-Star game–an exhibition–to home-field, which worked fine when it alternated between AL and NL, and especially the ham-handed advertising from networks. If it went back to that format, it would be fine with me, and the game wouldn’t lose (or for me gain) any luster. That people appreciate the All-Star game is great and cool. It just doesn’t jazz me up.

  8. vanessa-thanks for that!

    i actually did find myself—with my head turned around talking to the guy behind me

    🙂


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