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I have never like the idea that Major League Baseball made the All-Star Game “count.” It is an exhibition of the games biggest stars, a fan’s game, and an opportunity for the players to get recognized, even if it is but one career year or a long, or even short, career. This brings me to Tim Wakefield, the 42-year-old who was selected to his first midsummer classic. To me, the selection was a reward for the best year of his long and steady, though not spectacular, career as his numbers this season are not stellar, just good enough.
The American League used eight pitchers Tuesday night, Jonathan Papelbon included, but none were Wakefield. Since the game counted, to me this was just; Timmy just was not one of the top eight pitchers Joe Maddon had on his staff. Fine. Maddon was probably afraid of an unfamiliar catcher having to deal with the knuckler. Fine. He probably did not even know how to warm him up, when best to use him, or hoped for a blowout before bringing him in. Again, all fine.
However, why should this game matter? It shouldn’t! If it doesn’t, then Maddon could have brought Wakefield in, for sentimentality, even if just for a batter, to recognize his selection. I’m not saying this as a homer, I would say the same for any other 40-year-old finally getting their first invite to the game.
Sure, the Red Sox had three players appear. Jason Bay started in left, Kevin Youkilis had a pinch hit at-bat, and Papelbon got the win for an inning of work. Do I mind that Josh Beckett kept his jacket on, not at all. He’s been there before and will be back again. But, poor Tim Wakefield, this was likely his only shot and Bud Selig’s stupid rule prevented his appearance. I hate the rule because it creates a similar injustice to singularly represented teams, some of which are really bad and send just one, often borderline All-Star. Before the rule was added, the managers attempted to get all players in the game, specifically trying to get all teams represented and they tried to win the game. So, one All-Star game improbably ran out of players, get the home field rule out of the game and let the players play and represent their teams and cities.
For the record, I loved the All-Star Game growing up as a kid. My favorite All-Star moment was Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs going back to back in Anaheim in 1989 and the 1999 Fenway game with Ted Williams’ appearance was special for Boston as well. I always worked my life around the game to see it, it had meaning. I watched the whole 2002 tie All-Star Game that initiated this fiasco of a rule. Since then, it has been meaningless to me, it is no longer a fun event (remember Randy Johnson vs John Kruk or Torii Hunter and Barry Bonds’ joviality) and I have only watched parts of games as I could. I did not even turn the game on last night.
As for the rule itself, how arbitrary is it for players who never play together to form a team and compete for the home field advantage? Isn’t there a better way to choose this? Heck, I even prefer the old alternating year to year to this disaster. How about the interleague series record? Head-to-head if the teams played? Better overall record? Sure, these all have flaws, but do they take the fun out of the only true fan’s game left on the schedule?
Chris Berman even touched on this in a roundabout way during the Home Run Derby. He advocated for an extra roster spot for a sentimental favorite, citing Ken Griffey, Jr and Randy Johnson (though injured). I don’t like the idea in any context, but with the game counting, who wants a washed up former megastar in a part time role hitting .222 or sporting an ERA of 4.81 taking a meaningful at-bat or throwing a meaningful pitch? If it doesn’t count, I could be convinced. Bud, bring back the fun and let everyone in the game. Let us have our Tim Wakefields.