Milwaukee or bust? Baseball’s 2002 All-Star Game is a flop

By Ben Adams

I spent all afternoon poring over statistics and team rosters and on-the-field permutations of players from each league in the hopes of making a sterling case for some overlooked All-Star snub.

I looked at the season of Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez, who has been a bright spot in an otherwise pedestrian starting rotation, who ranks fifth in the American League in ERA, who has a strikeout-to-walk ratio bordering on 2:1, and who has managed to go 6-3 in the first half for a team that can’t win even half of its games.

I looked at the season of Jim Thome, who is leading the American League in home runs and still managed not to get chosen (has that ever happened before?) owing to an All-Star team logjam at first base. I looked at his excellent run production and rise to legitimate star status in Cleveland and elsewhere.

I looked at Magglio Ordoñez and his all-around quality, at Eric Chavez and his power, at Johnny Damon and his exceptional qualifications as a centerfielder and a leadoff hitter. I looked at all of this stuff. And I did it all over again for the National League All-Star team, where I found just as many legitimate snubs: Brian Giles, Andruw Jones, Albert Pujols, and Larry Walker. I looked at them all carefully, and even wrote a draft of an argument defending Johnny Damon and Jim Thome. Then I deleted the draft.

What’s the point? Major League Baseball’s “30th Man” vote will, by press time, have come and gone, and one of these folks will find himself on each league’s All-Star squad. Those two, along with their All-Star peers, will head to Milwaukee (provided they don’t follow Pedro Martinez’s lead and decline the invitation), play an irrelevant game, and maybe wear a microphone for ESPN. In Milwaukee.

The players will receive their honors, and surely that purpose must be served. It’s a fair tribute to the Shea Hillenbrands, the Mark Buerhles, and the Jose Vidros of the baseball world that they should get some national recognition for their successes; often it seems as though none of these people will ever be appreciated outside their home cities. The idea of anointing the All-Stars is a good one. And the snubs are unfortunate in the exact same way. But if Albert Pujols thinks he is going to miss an important event, he is quite mistaken.

Cal Ripken’s sentimental home run of a year ago notwithstanding, the Major League Baseball All-Star game has become more and more of a charade over the years. It used to be the only occasion, apart from the World Series, on which National League pitchers got to face American League batters, and vice versa; Sammy Sosa could only hit against Pedro Martinez in one game a year. Interleague play killed that mystique in one fell swoop. It used to be a chance to compare the two leagues against one another. Interleague play killed that, too. It used to be a chance for stars to challenge one another. Often, with the thirty-team rosters in place, the most interesting matchups (Jimmy Rollins, Junior Spivey, and Todd Helton trying to double up Ichiro and Torii Hunter? Randy Johnson trying to strike out the un-strike-out-able Omar Vizquel?) never even occur. The All-Star game, in its heyday, was a serious contest. Now it’s a debacle.

The ESPN glitz and the location are not helping. Miller Park, according to rumors, is an excellent place to watch a ballgame (especially when you don’t have to watch the Brewers), and ESPN is a fine network, but both are trying to dress up a cut-rate affair. The ads for the game, as they have been run on ESPN, have created comic book caricatures of the game’s sluggers as their eye-catcher. This includes a cartoon Alex Rodriguez, whose laser-vision targets an incoming ball as he begins to swing for the fences. Baseball purists are shocked. Everyone else just thinks it’s kind of dumb. And for all the benefits of Miller Park, it’s very hard to forget that the Brewers are the new frontrunners for contraction, and that Ruben Quevedo is leading their starting rotation with a very unimpressive 4.27 ERA. It’s hard to forget that Miller Park is in Milwaukee, and Milwaukee, frankly, doesn’t attract much national interest.

It would take a lot of time and a lot of work to reestablish respect for the All-Star game, an institution that has been slowly falling apart for a number of years now. If there were more moments like Ripken’s home run, that would be a start. If interleague play disappeared or at least decreased, that might help too. Sometime after Major League Baseball is finally done frying its bigger fish — the impending labor dispute, for example — some committee should put some effort into this. For the time being, baseball fans will get a few days off in the middle of the season.