For all its flaws, MLB’s All-Star Game is best of its kind


PHOENIX – Say what you will about MLB’s All-Star Game.

Call it ridiculous that the winner of an exhibition game clinches home-field advantage for its league representative in the World Series. Say that the bloated rosters — made even larger by the handful of players who beg out of the game – make a mockery of the contest.

There is certainly some truth behind those criticisms. But for all of its flaws — and the All-Star Game is flawed — it’s still the best of its kind.

Tuesday night’s game, won 5-1 by the National League on the strength of MVP Prince Fielder’s 3-run homer, had its share of silly moments you are unlikely to see in your average, run-of-the mill baseball game. Heath Bell’s Earth-shaking slide into the mound in the eighth inning certainly helped everyone remember that when all is said and done, this is still at its heart an exhibition game, a showcase for the fans.

But there was also an intensity you don’t see in other games of its kind. Not in the NBA – and to some extent, the NHL – where players treat defense as if playing it will cost them their shoe contracts. And definitely not in the NFL’s Pro Bowl, where competitors can barely gather the interest to take a three-point stance for a field goal attempt.

Instead, we witnessed Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista sliding feet-first into the wall to rob Brian McCann of extra bases. We saw majestic homers by Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. We got a first-hand look at the electric stuff of rookie Michael Pineda and the steady brilliance of Roy Halladay. We saw the strong outfield arm of Hunter Pence, gunning down Bautista at the plate, and the lightning-quick first step of Starlin Castro, who easily swiped a pair of bases after entering the game as a pinch-runner.

There was no dogging it on Tuesday, and aside from Bell’s playful entrance, no hot-dogging it either. This was baseball at its everyday best, only played by collection of not-so-everyday players.

“It’s absolutely a normal baseball game,” said St. Louis’ Lance Berkman. “It doesn’t have the intensity of a playoff game, but in terms the effort and in terms of the concentration (it’s a normal game). Baseball isn’t a sport that lends itself to a lack of concentration or a lack of effort. You can’t coast through a baseball game.”

MLB commissioner Bud Selig has taken a lot of heat for the rule – his brainchild – giving the winner of the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series, and deservedly so. It seems ridiculous to allow a player who might not make it anywhere near the playoffs play a role in which team wins the championship.

But in a chat with writers on Tuesday, Selig made it clear that the criticism doesn’t bother him. He said MLB’s TV partners like it that way, and he claimed the players do, too.

And for the most part, he seems to be right.

Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto said that NL manager Bruce Bochy stressed how important home-field advantage is, and that it helped Bochy’s San Francisco Giants jump out to a 2-0 Series lead last fall before dispatching the Texas Rangers in five games.

“Just hearing that from his perspective really helped,” Votto said, “and I think it kept our eyes on the prize.”

Votto said that while he thinks players have always competed hard in All-Star Games, Selig’s rule will lessen the likelihood of past antics, mentioning specifically the Randy Johnson-John Kruk shenanigans in 1993.

Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee agreed.

“Regardless of who makes the World Series, someone out here is going to be impacted, so it’s important,” Lee said. “It’s not just a showcase, it’s not just a game where we’re out there messing around having a good time. It’s meaningful. We’re going to do everything we can to win.”

Berkman, however, said that it’s the nature of baseball itself, not Selig’s rule, that makes baseball’s All-Star Game the best of its kind.

“Really and truly, baseball is an individual sport played under the auspices of a team,” he said. “Whenever you have individual competition, nobody wants to get embarrassed. You’ve got guys who are throwing as hard as they can throw, we try as hard as we can to not make an out, and then the guys on defense are trying to make every play, so that leads to a good  baseball game.

“The level of play is exactly the way it is in the regular season, which I don’t think you get in the NBA All-Star Game, and certainly not in the Pro Bowl.”

So yes, Derek Jeter, as well as some of the other big-name stars, begged out of the game. The rosters are outrageously large and the lineups are watered down. The home-field advantage rule is questionable at best.

But for all its flaws, MLB’s All-Star Game is still the best of its kind, a marketing tool for the game and an exciting showcase for the fans, as it’s intended to be.

It’s hard to argue with the results on the field.

Terry Francona sets Indians’ World Series rotation for first three games

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 18:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that Indians manager Terry Francona has set his starting rotation for the first three games of the World Series against the Cubs. Corey Kluber will start Game One, followed by Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin for Games Two and Three, respectively.

Kluber, the ace of the staff, has had a terrific postseason. He’s made three starts with a 0.98 ERA and a 20/7 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings. The Indians won two of his starts — Game Two of the ALDS and Game 1 of the ALCS.

Bauer was unable to make it out of the first inning of his ALCS Game 3 start against the Blue Jays after the stitches on his pinky opened up and caused blood to pour out. He suffered the injury repairing one of his drones, which he builds as a hobby. Bauer insists he’ll be good to go in Game Two, though he also insisted that the injury wouldn’t be an impediment against the Jays.

Tomlin has made two solid starts for the Indians, allowing a total of three runs over 10 2/3 innings. The Indians won both games he started, Game 3 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the ALCS. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes that if Bauer can’t go in Game Two, Tomlin will be moved up to start in his place.

Alex Rodriguez credits Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein with Cubs’ turnaround

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13:  Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, celebrates after the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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It isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints left by Cubs’ president Tom Ricketts and general manager Theo Epstein on the club’s remarkable 2016 season. In a piece for FOXSports.com, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez highlighted the duo’s effectiveness in liberating the Cubs from a five-year losing streak and six-year postseason drought, citing both the unrelenting work ethic and passion that Ricketts and Epstein brought to the club as major factors in their success.

Rodriguez’s first brush with sabermetric savant and all-around baseball wizard Theo Epstein came in 2003, when the then- 27-year-old All-Star was eyeing a deal with the Red Sox. The Major League Baseball Players Association eventually nixed the trade, and the Rangers’ young shortstop was sent to the Yankees shortly thereafter, but not before Rodriguez glimpsed the inner workings of Epstein’s mind.

What I remember best about that time was watching Theo furiously scribbling out the Red Sox lineup for the upcoming season on a room-service napkin. That’s when I saw Theo’s baseball mind at work. I saw he had a passion for the game, a depth of knowledge, and a thirst to be great. Theo’s passion was contagious. We were three 20-somethings convinced we were about to turn baseball upside down together. Though I never got a chance to work with Theo, I knew then that he was going to be a force.

A-Rod also referenced Ricketts’ thorough approach to rebuilding the organization. Ricketts, who purchased the franchise for $875 million in 2009, first made it his mission to transform Wrigley Field into a comfortable and enticing playing environment, then targeted top-tier management to run the show behind the scenes. With Ricketts fully backing Epstein’s transformative approaches — including an overhaul of the Cubs’ farm system, investments in international player development, and a comprehensive understanding and practical application of sabermetric advances — the Cubs’ path to a 97-win season in 2015 seemed a natural consequence of the pair’s hard work.

This year, the attention has been even more intensely focused on the Cubs’ elusive third World Series title. Rodriguez, however, believes that winning a championship is secondary to the strides Ricketts and Epstein have taken with the club.

Together, Ricketts and Epstein have built one of the greatest franchises in baseball and transformed 1060 W. Addison St. It’s a task that no one could quite get right for a hundred years. While four more wins would put a giant exclamation point on five years of focused work and determination, I won’t worry if this team doesn’t win the World Series in the next nine days.