Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 12, 2012

After Stoking Controversy, Giants’ All-Stars Deliver

As certain a part of summer as the annual major league All-Star Game is the controversy preceding it when the final results of fan voting for the starting lineups is announced. Every year some deserving players come up short in the balloting, beaten out of starting berths by stars with greater name recognition or from teams playing in larger markets.

Last year there was grumbling when the Yankees’ Derek Jeter was voted in as the starting shortstop for the American League. At the time Jeter was batting just .260, more than fifty points below his lifetime average. But he was also the focus of enormous national attention as he closed in on his 3,000th career hit, a milestone he achieved on the final Saturday before the All-Star break with a remarkable five for five performance including a 3rd inning home run for hit number 3,000. Then when Jeter announced that in the wake of completing his chase for the record books he was going to pass on the All-Star Game and use the break to rest he was again the subject of criticism, in some cases by the very pundits who had been decrying his selection just a few days before. In short, it just wouldn’t be an All-Star Game without many writers and at least some fans finding something to complain about.

Of course since the game is ultimately just a mid-season exhibition, given only nominal meaning over the last decade since the winning league now gets home field advantage in the World Series, the complaints and controversies are usually long forgotten by season’s end. By the time Jeter went on a tear through the second half and finished 2011 just two hits short (in 546 at-bats) of batting .300 the All-Star contretemps was a speck in the rear view mirror.

When this year’s starting lineups were announced the expected but always grating sound of gnashing teeth was loudest in the Willets Point neighborhood of Queens, home to auto body shops, scrap yards, and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Loyal Mets fans and much of the New York media were outraged by the news that star third baseman David Wright had been beaten out by a late tidal wave of votes from the Bay area for Giants hot corner man Pablo Sandoval. To be sure, the New York partisans had reason to howl. After a horrible 2011 Wright is enjoying a career year, hitting .351 at the break or nearly one hundred points higher than last season and almost fifty points above his career average. He’s improved in every other offensive statistic by similar margins. Sandoval on the other hand missed more than a month due to injury, and while he has hit well since his return, he’s been no David Wright at the plate. As for his play in the field, when one thinks of outstanding defensive third baseman the portly (to be kind) Sandoval is not the first name that comes to mind.

What became apparent as the starting lineups were announced was that the Giants’ marketing department had organized a very successful campaign to get fans to vote for their players, complete with a song by local rapper E-40. In addition to Sandoval, Buster Posey was the fans’ choice to start at catcher for the senior circuit, and Melky Cabrera was the top vote getter among NL outfielders. When in the days between the announcement of the voting results and the game itself NL manager Tony LaRussa chose the Giants’ Matt Cain as his starting pitcher over R. A. Dickey of the Mets, many New York fans started foaming at the mouth and the heads of several Gotham sportswriters are rumored to have repeatedly swiveled a full 360 degrees, just like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. Never mind that Posey’s numbers certainly merit consideration as a member of the All-Star squad if not necessarily as the starting backstop, or that Cabrera leads the league in hits and is third in batting average, or that Cain was just three weeks removed from throwing the first perfect game in the Giants’ very long history.

In the end, like most previous All-Star controversies, this one will soon be forgotten. No question that Wright should have been the NL’s starting third baseman, and yes it would have been a great feel-good story to have Dickey, the 37-year old journeyman knuckleballer in the midst of a dream season, take the hill in the bottom of the first inning. But if the surprising Mets, who at the season’s midpoint are just one-half game out of the second Wild Card spot (tied with the Giants, of course!), should somehow find an improbable path to the playoffs, the voters’ and LaRussa’s snubs of the two will morph into a point of pride for the team’s fans. Whether that happens or not, it’s also worth remembering that the marketing departments of all thirty major league teams spent the entire voting period finding different ways to exhort their fans to log on and vote repeatedly for the local heroes, and that the population of New York City is ten times that of San Francisco. As Cassius would have said to Brutus had the latter been wearing a Mets cap, the fault dear Mets fans, is not in the stars, but in yourselves.

Certainly the whole matter is considerably less serious than the very real controversy of 1957, when in the pre-Internet age Cincinnati Reds fans really did stuff the ballot box, sending in thousands of ballots pre-printed with votes for all the Reds that had been distributed by the city’s leading newspaper. A majority of all the ballots cast that year came from Cincinnati, and first baseman Stan Musial of the Cardinals was the only non-Red elected to the NL’s starting lineup. Commissioner Ford Frick replaced two of the Reds with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and ended fan voting; a ban that lasted until 1970. After a record 40.2 million votes were cast this year, no one is seriously suggesting that Pablo Sandoval’s unlikely election as a starter should result in the end of the wildly popular method of picking the All-Star Game’s starters. Like any democratic process it’s far from perfect; but it’s well worth an annual Sandoval or two to let the folks who buy the tickets, the hot dogs, and the caps, have a say.

As for those unlikely starters from San Francisco, Cain notched the win for the NL by throwing two scoreless innings. He surrendered a leadoff infield single to Jeter and then retired six men in a row. While Posey didn’t get a hit, he worked a two-out walk off Detroit’s Justin Verlander in the 1st inning to keep the NL batting in what was then just a 1-0 game, advanced Bryce Harper with a fly out in the 5th, and guided four different pitchers through five shutout innings. Batting second in the order, Cabrera lined the first pitch he saw from Verlander, a 98 mile per hour fastball, into left field for the first hit of the game; and then raced around to score the game’s first run when Ryan Braun followed with a double to right. Then with two outs in the 4th and the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday on first base, Cabrera ended the scoring with a two-run homer over the fence in left field; a two hit, two run, two RBI performance that earned him the game’s MVP Award. As for Sandoval, after Posey’s 1st inning walk loaded the bases, he broke the game open with a drive into the right field corner. When the ball caromed away from the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista three runs scored and the player nicknamed Kung Fu Panda had time to lumber all the way to third with a rare triple. Not bad for an All-Star who some were quick to deride. Maybe those ballot box stuffers by the Bay knew what they were doing after all.

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Responses

  1. A great summary of the situation. I actually paid attention his year– like in watching the home run derby. As LA fan, worrying about the newfound Giants mystique.

    • this year


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