Tony La Russa has made his decision. The man who should be starting the All-Star Game for the National League will give way to an inferior option.
San Francisco Giants righty hurler Matt Cain will get the start. New York Mets knuckleballing phenom R.A. Dickey will stand idly by and wait his turn, and that ain't right. He's been robbed of an honor that he very much deserved.
La Russa made his decision official at a press conference at roughly 12:40 p.m. local time in Kansas City, but word started to leak out that he had spurned Dickey for Cain a few hours before the cameras were rolling.
John Harper of the New York Daily News was one of the first to break the news on Twitter:
Source says Dickey is not starting All-Star game. Will be Cain vs. Verlander.— John Harper (@NYDNHarper) July 9, 2012
Harper subsequently tweeted that Dickey should be starting because he's been the "best pitcher" and "best story" of the season, and he's correct on both fronts.
What Dickey has done this season doesn't make any sense, and that's the beauty of it. He was a washed-up pitcher just a couple years ago, as he spent much of his time between 2005 and 2007 in the minor leagues. He used that time to master the knuckleball, a task that many baseball people will say is a fool's errand.
Only desperate pitchers try to learn the knuckleball, and learning the knuckleball is much, much easier said than done.
The fact that Dickey was successful in mastering the knuckleball is impressive in and of itself. His return to the majors and subsequent rise to prominence is one of the best feel-good stories in recent baseball history.
It's only gotten better as we've found out more about the man himself. Dickey is a remarkable pitcher on the mound, and he's a remarkable person off the field.
The story of R.A. Dickey is only half the reason he should be starting the All-Star Game for the Senior Circuit. The other half consists of the stats of R.A. Dickey, which are outstanding across the board.
Dickey is leading the National League in several major statistical categories, but what's important as far as this discussion is concerned is that he's leading Mr. Cain in wins (12 to nine), ERA (2.40 to 2.62), WHIP (0.93 to 0.96), K/9 (9.23 to 8.83) and opponents' batting average (.203 to .209). The list goes on and on.
According to FanGraphs, Dickey has a comfortable lead over Cain in WAR, 3.2 to 2.7. It's an imperfect statistic, but a disparity like that goes to show just how valuable Dickey has been this season.
None of this is to say that Cain is having a bad season, so don't get your shorts in a bundle, Giants fans. On the contrary, he's having an excellent season. We wouldn't be discussing him at all if that weren't the case.
And yes, La Russa did have extra incentive to start Cain because of the fact that Buster Posey was voted in by the fans to be the NL's starting catcher. La Russa hinted that he was uncomfortable with Posey catching Dickey when he spoke to Newsday last week, which is an understandable concern.
Also, Cain's perfect game does indeed count for a lot. It was easily the best performance by any pitcher thus far in the 2012 season and arguably the greatest perfect game ever pitched. That's saying something.
But in terms of overall dominance, Dickey has Cain beat. That much is reflected in their season numbers, and there's also the fact that Dickey has pitched five games this season in which he's posted a game score of 80 or better, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Cain has pitched three such games this season.
No matter how Giants fans want to argue this one, the numbers tell us that Dickey got robbed.
And he's not the only one who got robbed by La Russa's choice. Baseball fans have been robbed too.
With Justin Verlander toeing the rubber for Ron Washington's American League squad, the pitching matchup in this year's Midsummer Classic could have been an all-timer. It could have been baseball's premier fireballer versus the best knuckleball artist to come along in a long time.
That matchup would have been a battle of polar opposites for the ages and a true treat for fans. The battle that has been arranged for Tuesday night is a good one, but it doesn't have the look or the feel of a true can't-miss pitching matchup.
Like most All-Star Game matchups, the Verlander vs. Cain showdown will probably be forgotten by the time next year's Midsummer Classic rolls around. A few years down the road, even the most dedicated fans will have to look it up.
There would have been no danger of a showdown between Verlander and Dickey fading from memory so quickly. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been remembered for the sheer oddity of the spectacle.
It would have been a man with a 100 mph fastball against a man with an 80 mph knuckler. It would have been a former No. 2 overall pick against a man who was nearly out of baseball a couple of years ago.
So here's hoping Verlander and Dickey can make their first halves in 2013 carbon copies of their first halves in 2012, because this is a matchup that needs to happen.
It should have happened this year, but La Russa got another idea in his head.
The wrong idea.
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