SAN DIEGO — “This time it counts” is the slogan Major League Baseball slapped on the All-Star Game when it tied home field advantage in the world series to the game’s outcome. The idea was to atone for the embarrassing tie game in 2002 when both teams ran out of players and to encourage managers and players to take the game more seriously lest it turn into a defense-free farce like the NBA and NHL All-Star Games or a complete and total farce like the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
For the most part players pay decent lip service to the “this time it counts” thing. During media day they can often be heard saying that it’s all just a lot of fun but, not long after, their media training kicks in and they almost always revert to “home field advantage in the World Series is important too,” mode.
Still, a lot of these guys are just here for the yuks. Take Jose Fernandez for example. The Marlins pitcher told Marly Rivera of ESPN that, if he gets the opportunity to face retiring legend David Ortiz, that he’s going to groove three fastballs down the middle so, in Rivera’s words, Ortiz “can hit a monster HR in his last All-Star Game!”
It wouldn’t be the first time a retiring superstar had a fastball grooved to him for such purposes. Adam Wainwright strongly suggested that he grooved one to Derek Jeter in 2014, only to backtrack on that once MLB’s P.R. people got to him. Cal Ripken hit a reeaallllly straight pitch from Chan Ho Park in 2001, his final All-Star Game. If that’s the benchmark for an honor of that type, David Ortiz had certainly earned it too.
I don’t have a problem with it. If Fernandez wants to have fun with it, let him have fun with it. He, as well as fans, will remember a big David Ortiz bomb in his last All-Star Game more than we’ll remember who had home field advantage in the World Series this fall. We’ll have to look that up ten years from now. Last night there were 61 grooved pitches to Giancarlo Stanton and we enjoyed every one of them. The All-Star Game is supposed to be fun.
The problem is MLB’s for insisting that it’s supposed to count for something. If anyone is mad at Fernandez over this, take it up with the league office, not him.