Author: Bob Harkins


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.

Is the All-Star Game a joke? Not to those who are here

Ricky Romero

PHOENIX – Where’s Derek Jeter?

That seemed to be the question on the mind of many during Monday’s media day leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, decided not to play in the game, as he has recently returned from the disabled list with a calf injury.

Jeter is one of 16 players either unable or unwilling to participate in the game. Some, like Alex Rodriguez, are out because of a serious injury, others because of nagging aches and pains. Several pitchers are not allowed to participate, by MLB rule, because they started games on Sunday.

Jeter is simply the most notable of the 16 in part because of who he is, but also because he returned from the DL six games ago. He has gone 10-for-27 since his return, and certainly seemed healthy on Saturday when he went 5-for-5 to surpass the 3,000-hit mark.

Some say his absence, along with that of several others, makes a mockery of the game. But it’s hard to take credibility away from an exhibition game, and no matter what Bud Selig does to give it some importance, the All-Star Game is just that.

Rest a balky calf for a playoff run or fly to Arizona to play a couple innings in a non-counter? It’s a pretty easy choice. If Jeter, or any player, doesn’t want to play in the All-Star Game, there are plenty of players more than thrilled to step in and take part.

Seattle Mariners rookie Michael Pineda was asked if he ever expected to be an All-Star at age 22: “No,” he said, laughing. “It’s wild. To play in the All-Star Game is unbelievable. I’m very excited to be here. This is a big day for me.”

Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Kevin Correia, selected to his first All-Star Game at age 30, said he suffered through several sleepless nights after being told he was first in line to nab a spot if another pitcher opted out.

“It was a relief (when I finally found out),” said Correia, 11-7 with a 4.01 ERA. “It was just a goal that I wanted to accomplish in my career at some point. To finally get to experience something like this is definitely going to be something I’m going to look back on as a highlight in my career.”

And Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero (pictured), 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA, was positively giddy about being chosen as a replacement.

“I’m just trying to soak everything in,” Romero said. “I’m living the dream.”

Romero spoke about his rise from the baseball fields of East Los Angeles and the importance of representing his hometown. At breakfast Monday morning, his mother told him how family and friends back in California were sharing in his excitement.

“Everyone who watched me grow up and watched me play, they saw how hard I worked and everything I put into it,” Romero said. “It just shows that anyone can make it out of there. It shows little kids that if you work hard you can do anything.”

And if the All-Star Game becomes a regular occurrence for Romero, would he ever consider skipping the festivities and using the break to rest?

“I would never miss this for the world,” he said, beaming. “For me, it’s exciting, and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. The more, the better.”

One of the best things about baseball’s All-Star Game, what separates it from the others of its kind, is that the players give their all on the field from start to finish. There is no coasting on defense, no taking it slow to avoid injury, no grooving pitches down the middle just to get some work in.

If you start pressuring players to compete who might not be 100 percent healthy you might lose some of that quality of play. And in the end, a pennant race is far more important than an exhibition game.

“I think it’s a personal decision,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will play in his sixth All-Star Game, his first as a starter. “Derek has been an ambassador to this game. He’s been nothing but great. I’m not into nit-picking. He’s here every year. He gives his time, and he does everything by the book. He just got back from the DL, I don’t blame him at all. They’re trying to win the World Series.”

But would a healthy McCann ever turn down an All-Star appearance?

“Never. I always want to be a part of this.”

To each his own.

M’s emergency catcher is Adam Kennedy, who has never caught


To follow up on Craig’s earlier post on the Seattle Mariners’ catching situation – always a big water cooler topic – it turns out they do have an emergency catcher after all.

His name is Adam Kennedy.

And it’s possible there has never been a more reluctant emergency catcher on the history of baseball. Kennedy said today that he has never caught, not even in Little League. And Chris Gimenez, whose oblique injury landed him on the DL today, knew he had to stay in the game last night after taking one look in Kennedy’s eyes.

“I’m not going to put anybody else in jeopardy of getting hurt,” Gimenez said. “Adam already looked like he wanted to puke just from the fact he possibly could have to go in if something else happened.”

Rest assured no one was happier than Kennedy to see Josh Bard called up today, though with Miguel Olivo battling a hamstring cramp, there still could be a need for his services behind the dish.

Which raises the question of how the Mariners chose Kennedy to be their emergency catcher? I’m guessing it went something like this:

Eric Wedge: Alright everybody listen up. I want everyone who would like to volunteer to be the emergency catcher take one step forward.

Entire team, except Adam Kennedy, takes one step back.

Kennedy: Ahh @#^*&^@!!

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Back injury puts Roy Oswalt’s career in jeopardy


Roy Oswalt left the Phillies’ 12-2 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday night after allowing four runs in two innings and feeling tightness in his lower back.

Later, we discovered that the pain in Oswalt’s back would cause him to miss his next start.

Now, the news has become grim, as the veteran right-hander is talking about the possibility of his injury sending him to the sideline for good.

From Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly:

“You throw as long as you can and when you can’t throw anymore you don’t,” the 33-year-old pitcher said after the game. “Hopefully it’s not to the point where I can’t throw anymore. If it’s at that point, you just have to accept it.”

Oswalt said he will have an MRI on Monday – doesn’t that seem a little far off for something this serious? – and if the examination brings the type of news that puts his career in jeopardy …

“I’ve had a pretty good one,” Oswalt said with resignation.


Oswalt has been dealing with back issues for years, and told Salisbury that he has had “a lot” of cortisone injections over the years. An MRI “a year or two ago” revealed two degenerative discs. This season, Oswalt says, he has felt pain “when I sit down, stand up, walk, pitch, sleep,” and he already spent more than two weeks on the disabled list earlier this season.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said “he’s had trouble for quite a while. This started back in Arizona (in April). … I’m definitely concerned about it.”

The loss of Oswalt would be a blow to a team built around its starting rotation of Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. No. 5 starter Joe Blanton has been sidelined since mid-May with elbow inflammation, but rookie Vance Worley has been solid in his place, going 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in seven games (five starts).

Kyle Kendrick, who allowed two runs in four innings in relief of Oswalt on Thursday, would seem to be the likely candidate to step into the rotation. He is 4-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 18 appearances (including five starts) this season.

Oswalt, a three-time All-Star, is 154-89 with a 3.52 ERA in his 11-year career. He has a mutual option with the Phillies for $16 million next season. If he walks away, or the team buys him out, he’ll be owed $2 million.


Charlie Manuel makes plea for a right-handed hitter


At 47-28, the Philadelphia Phillies have the best record in baseball.

They allow an MLB-best 3.2 runs per game, and trail only the Yankees and Red Sox in run differential.

But this team could be better, and Charlie Manuel knows it.

The Phillies manager is making a rather public plea for help for his lineup, and a solid right-handed hitter tops his wish list, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.

“We could use a hitter in our lineup,” he said Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. “At least one. We could definitely use a solid right-handed hitter.”

If the Phillies were to add a right-handed hitter, he would ideally be able to pick up some at-bats in the No. 5 spot in the batting order. Phillies’ No. 5 hitters are batting just .207 with a .609 on-base plus slugging percentage.

In fairness, Placido Polanco is a good hitter (though he has no power), Carlos Ruiz is serviceable enough at catcher (you’ve got to love the .370 OBP), and Shane Victorino is a switch-hitter who destroys left-handers (.362/.464/.787).

Also, the Phillies are 15-6 against left-handers this season, so it’s not like they’re helpless from the right side. What Manuel really should have said was this: “I really miss Jayson Werth. Without Jayson, we don’t have anyone with a sweet beard who can put the fear of God into a left-handed pitcher.”

Of course, Werth is hitting .172/.313/.344 against southpaws this season, so never mind.

The bigger issue here, as far as the Phillies are concerned, is money. Their payroll for 2011 is at $175 million, the second-highest in baseball and just $3 million shy of the luxury tax threshold. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is already on record as saying “you will not see a major move this year.”

Salisbury reports that Oakland’s Josh Willingham interests the Phillies, and San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick, Kansas City’s Wilson Betemit, and Colorado’s Ryan Spilborghs are also possibilities. Of course, even Manuel admits that the money issue could be “a huge problem.”

Still, it never hurts to ask. After all, Manuel asked for a pitcher last season and ended up with Roy Oswalt. Not too bad.