With half of the Major League Baseball season in the books, it is once again time for the annual All-Star Game.
For the elite talent in the league, it is a time to be honored for hard work and dedication.
For those players not invited to the festivities, it is a time to sit back and enjoy some much-needed relaxation.
For fans, it should unquestionably be an event to enjoy.
Naysayers will hold to the qualm that the outcome of the game should not determine World Series home field advantage. They are certainly right in that respect.
However, one negative factor should not take away from the many positives surrounding the Midsummer Classic.
This event is a celebration of the best players of the national pastime. It is a meeting of the greatest components of the big leagues, bringing both players and fans together with one universal concept: the love of baseball.
Every season around this time, there are stories within the main story that make it that much more special. This year is no different.
Bringing the baseball world to one of its most beautiful venues, the new Busch Stadium, in one of the prototypical baseball cities in the country, St. Louis, commissioner Bud Selig really outdid himself this time.
The stage is set, and what a stage it is sure to be. Like years past, everyone around the sport likely wonders who will steal the spotlight.
Will it be an unlikely hero coming up with the game-winning hit, like J.D. Drew last year?
Will Ichiro take over like he did in 2007?
Regardless of the game’s MVP (which will be yet another voting process controlled by the fans), the game never ceases to entertain. Selig has scheduled a ratings monster—fan interaction, Hall of Famers, the president, and a man referred to as “The Machine.”
It’s the 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the last of the decade. The following list details four reasons why it might also be the best of the decade.
With its Gateway Arch overlooking the new Busch Stadium and masses of fans creating seas of red, St. Louis has been a baseball city since Major League Baseball’s inception. Its beloved Cardinals (team name since 1900) are the oldest current professional sports franchise west of the Mississippi.
Legends have been made in the Gateway City, and their names linger as invaluable members of baseball history.
Billy Southworth, Dizzy Dean, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter, and Ozzie Smith were all inducted into the Hall of Fame as Cardinals.
Twenty St. Louis players have hit for the cycle. Four of the 16 Triple Crowns ever recorded were by Cardinals. Six Cardinals have been Rookie of the Year.
Ten no-hitters have been thrown by St. Louis pitchers. Two pitchers have won the Cy Young Award—Bob Gibson in 1968 (when he also won the MVP award) and 1970 and, more recently, Chris Carpenter in 2005.
A remarkable 19 Cardinal players have won Most Valuable Player awards, trailing only the New York Yankees for the league record for most MVPs by one team.
Not coincidentally, St. Louis shares with the Bronx a mutual infatuation with the game. The city lives and breathes baseball.
This is the perfect time to showcase the All-Star Game in one of the quintessential Major League cities. The Cardinals lead the NL Central with a record of 49-42, led by reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols and his league-leading 32 home runs and 87 RBI.
Pujols, batting .332, is threatening a campaign for the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.
He is on his own proverbial planet, and he has singlehandedly rejuvenated not only Cardinals followers, but all fans of baseball in general. It is, after all, the wake of the steroid era, with the most recent guilty parties being superstars Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.
It’s refreshing to see an uncontroversial star like Pujols emerge as both the host representative of St. Louis and the face of baseball.
Enjoy the show, St. Louisans. Your city is worthy of a classic.
The aforementioned host representative Pujols will catch President Barack Obama’s ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night.
Obama will become the fourth president to throw the opening toss of the All-Star Game, following in the footsteps of John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford.
This seems like a perfect situation for both MLB and the Head of State. It might serve to boost ratings for both parties, who have clearly never been shy to the concepts of added exposure and publicity.
Not only that, it will also unify the president, and hopefully the rest of the nation, with the national pastime.
Obama will be joined on the field by the Cardinals’ six living Hall of Famers, which is sure to be a touching introduction to a great night of baseball.
Preceding the first pitch will be a video featuring Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter, in which they will celebrate the “All-Stars Among Us.”
A compilation by MLB and People magazine, “All-Stars Among Us” will honor 30 people around the U.S. for their outstanding community service.
After that, it’s just Pujols and Obama. Just 46 feet, mound to home plate, will stand between the hometown hero and the homeland’s hope.
“Obviously it's an honor to catch the first pitch from the president, as our leader,” Pujols said recently.
“Tomorrow I think it's going to get to me. As a little boy when I was my son's age, I would never have thought I was going to be on this stage.”
But he is the stage—and possibly the only person who can upstage The Machine is the Commander-in-Chief. One man spearheads a push to cure a 20-year steroid plague in baseball; the other aims to cure a national economic crisis.
Indeed, they have the power to be the cornerstones of a new era in their respective fields.
Let’s just hope Obama doesn’t one-hop it to the backstop.
You don’t have to shed too bright of a light on the All-Star fan voting process to realize that it’s a pretty flawed system. Each fan is allowed to vote up to 25 times, on each of their email accounts, and the e-mail accounts of their mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, son, and daughter.
Sorry, but it needed to be said—the MLB allows Internet ballot-box stuffing.
Of course, many will make the initial argument that fans should not be able to decide the All-Stars if the All-Star Game decides World Series home-field advantage. But it is the fans’ game.
In the end, without the fans, there wouldn’t be any stars. So they should continue to be allowed to vote (only ONCE!) for whomever they choose.
This year, ballot-stuffing or not, they pretty much voted the right players in.
The top-voted in the National League is a lineup of all players who deserve the accolades. Anyone claiming a “snub” would have difficulty adequately explaining who should have been replaced for the starting nod.
Pujols, Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, and Florida’s Hanley Ramirez are all far and away the top performers at their positions. New York’s David Wright is an established player with a better average than Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman.
Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, Philadelphia’s Raul Ibanez, and New York’s Carlos Beltran have each posted huge numbers, Ibanez and Beltran even despite injuries.
The American League, although a bit more dicey, was also a success overall. New York’s Derek Jeter has not had his best year, and he has not had the best half-season among AL shortstops.
However, he's had a pretty good year, he’s a superstar, and he’s a class act. Combine one of the best on-base percentages of all leadoff hitters, a .321 average, 10 homers, 37 RBI, 56 runs, 17 steals, and the respect of the nation, and you’ve got an All-Star.
Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett, Toronto’s Marco Scutaro, and Texas’ Elvis Andrus will have their time when Jeter is done.
After another slow start, New York’s Mark Teixeira rallied into May and June and deservingly eked out a starting bid over Boston’s Kevin Youkilis.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Minnesota slugger Justin Morneau’s numbers trump those of Tex and Youk. Blame that on the passion or population of New York and Boston.
Regardless, Teixeira’s numbers are worthy of the start, and all three fittingly made the team.
Reigning Red Sox AL MVP Dustin Pedroia made the cut over Texas’ Ian Kinsler, but because of his wife’s complications with pregnancy, Pedroia will not make the game.
In comes Aaron Hill, Toronto’s first-time All-Star who has had an incredible season. It’s arguable that Kinsler and Hill deserved first place over Pedroia, but the voting was in no way deplorable. It is deplorable that Kinsler didn’t make the team at all.
At third, true justice prevails. Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria posted the best numbers and played the best third base all year, and he was rewarded by the fans.
Longoria receiving more votes than A-Rod is a sign of hope for the eventual culmination of “popularity contest” voting. A-Rod began the year with a steroid controversy, he had a late start after post-surgery rehab, and he never caught up to Longoria. Fans made the right move here.
And in the outfield, two out of three ain’t bad. Boston’s Jason Bay and Seattle’s Ichiro have had great seasons, Bay with 72 RBI and Ichiro with a .360 average.
However, Texas’ Josh Hamilton, with a .243 average and six homers after 152 at-bats, was one of the worst starting selections ever.
Maybe the popularity contest thing isn’t over yet. Where’s the L.A. love for Torii Hunter? As the headline suggests, for the most part, fans got it right.
Wrap it up with an inhuman Joe Mauer (Twins) and Cardinal Yadier Molina at the catcher positions, both deserving picks.
Detroit’s Brandon Inge (over Kinsler and LA’s Chone Figgins) and Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino (over San Fran’s Pablo Sandoval and Arizona’s Mark Reynolds) won the wretched “Final Vote.”
Overall, the grade for the fan vote is a B-, because hometown favoritism and bias didn’t fully surmount worthiness, and A-Rod and Manny Ramirez will deservingly be absent.
Perhaps the most remarkable All-Star rookie this year is 25-year-old Kansas City Royal pitcher Zack Greinke, who has gone 10-5 with a staggering 1.55 ERA.
He seemingly came out of nowhere, transforming his reputation from good to great in half of a season. If not for Roy Halladay, Greinke would be the lone candidate for the AL Cy Young Award.
Other pitchers making their All-Star debut are NL starters Zach Duke, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, Jason Marquis, and Josh Johnson, and AL starters Felix Hernandez, Edwin Jackson, and Tim Wakefield.
While each of these starting pitchers has had an excellent season so far, it has to be difficult for fans of baseball in general to shy away from the story of Wakefield.
The Red Sox knuckleballer, in his 17th season, is the second-oldest to go to the All-Star Game for the first time, behind legendary Satchel Paige.
His long, respectable career is undoubtedly the main reason why AL skipper Joe Maddon chose Wakefield. However, he's also 11-3 on the No. 1 team in the American League.
He is a consistently solid player, known for selfless acts of charity and for always taking what Boston offers him. Generally speaking, they offer him $4 million a year—the same wholehearted loyalty he offers them.
Another veteran and older All-Star rookie is Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, who at 37 received the second-most votes of any NL outfielder. Ibanez has made a huge comeback after years of relative mediocrity, to the point where he has had to defend himself against false steroid accusations.
The chances are that these days, the All-Star Game won’t be inviting any first-timers if they are remotely tied to steroids beyond rumors. That’s one of the best parts of having 29 first-time All-Stars—they help represent the previously-noted "new era" of baseball.
The plethora of young talent includes reliever Andrew Bailey of the Athletics and Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers. They join the elder Heath Bell (Padres) and Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals as first-time All-Star relievers.
Rounding out the list of newcomers are the bats: the Blue Jays’ Hill; the Tigers' Inge and Curtis Granderson; Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena of the Rays; Adam Jones of the Orioles; Nelson Cruz of the Rangers; Zimmerman of the Nats; Victorino and Jayson Werth of the Phillies; Justin Upton of the D’Backs; Hunter Pence of the Astros; and Brad Hawpe of the Rockies.
With so many players receiving first-time invitations to the Midsummer Classic, it’s difficult to maintain that the event is nothing but a popularity contest.
It's an exhibition that honors all the right players for all the right reasons, the biggest being that they help make the game a great spectacle for an entire nation.
So watch the All-Star Game, and consider these points while you do. Maybe you’ll enjoy it that much more.