All-Star Game not living up to its name

Derek Jeter's absence is notable, especially after his hit milestone.
Derek Jeter's absence is notable, especially after his hit milestone. (Associated Press)
Posted: July 12, 2011

PHOENIX - The downtown streets are festooned with banners. Chase Field has been all spiffed up. The FanFest, Futures Games, workouts and home-run contest have all come off without a hitch. The publicity machinery is humming smoothly. A full house will attend, millions will watch on television.

The only thing missing from this year's All-Star Game will be, you know, stars.

Some of this could have been avoided. Some of it resulted from questionable decisions. Some of it falls into the stuff-happens category. But the bottom line is that some of the biggest names in baseball won't be playing tonight.

Four of the seven pitchers with the lowest earned run averages in baseball - Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, James Shields, Tommy Hanson - won't participate.

Yankees lefthander CC Sabathia, leads baseball with 13 wins. Not here.

Seattle's King Felix Hernandez. Not here.

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is a Most Valuable Player candidate, tied for the major league lead in hitting. Not here.

Ryan Howard's 72 RBI. Not here.

Albert Pujols. Not here, for crying out loud, even though he made it clear he wanted to play once he came off the disabled list. He must be healthy, too. He hit a game-winning home run Saturday night.

And that's not even the worst of it. There are a handful of active players who have accomplished enough in their careers that, if they retired tomorrow, they'd be shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame. Guys like Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera.

None will play tonight.

In all, 15 All-Stars have been replaced on the roster. Some are legitimately injured. Fine. But Tampa Bay's David Price bowed out with what was reported as a "previously undisclosed" turf toe. He's expected to step right back into the Rays rotation after the break. Maybe he really is hurt, but it sure looks funny.

Jeter got his 3,000th career hit last weekend. You may have heard something about it. He led off and had four at-bats against Tampa Bay on Sunday. He won't be seen in the All-Star Game, though.

Look, if a player doesn't want to play, that's his right. But it's a jarring contrast to the kneejerk cliches and mindless observations about how important the game is.

National League manager Bruce Bochy opened his remarks yesterday by saying what an honor it was to be with "the best players in the world." American League skipper Ron Washington picked up the theme. He said he's thrilled to be in the same clubhouse as "some of the best baseball has to offer." And so it went.

Except that a lot of the best players won't play.

A certain dropout rate is inevitable. Injuries are going to happen. The rule barring pitchers who started on Sunday from appearing didn't help. But all that seems to argue against the idea that this is a meaningful game because homefield advantage in the World Series is at stake.

This just in: Since that change was adopted in 2003, it had never come into play since not a single World Series has gone the full seven games. But that didn't stop player after player from paying homage to the idea anyway. That ones who showed up, at least.

The managers get stuck in the middle. Bochy could have picked Pujols. He took Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero instead.

"I caught wind of that really late, that Albert wanted to come here, but I had pretty much made up my mind that I was going to go with the third catcher to give me flexibility," Bochy explained. "Again, first base, that's usually the most difficult position to choose somebody from. I have three first basemen, so I just didn't feel I needed another first baseman on the club."

This isn't the most pressing issue happening in the world today. There still will be plenty of good players to watch and the game itself could well turn out to be well-played and enjoyable.

Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels, who will be in uniform even though he's not eligible to pitch after beating the Braves on Sunday, had conflicting thoughts about a galaxy missing some of its most prominent stars.

"You want to see the best of the best," he admitted. "But at the same time injuries and the whole team aspect is more important. Teams want guys to be healthy. I think it does make it a little harder with having this thing actually mean something. That kind of throws things for a loop rather than just making it a grandioso time."

Jeter's absence could be the trigger for further changes. Both honorary league presidents, Phillies chairman Bill Giles and former Angels owner Jackie Autry, admitted that the game would be better if he were participating in some way.

"Because of what he accomplished, I think it is a bit of a problem and baseball should study it," Giles said. "We used to have honorary captains. I think we should go back to that."

Autry said it was up to ownership to examine the possibility of honorary participants.

Something needs to be done. Because an All-Star Game without all the stars just isn't the same. *

Send email to hagenp@phillynews.com

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