Cooperstown Confidential: reviewing the All-Star game

As someone who grew up watching the Midsummer Classic in the seventies, I feel safe in saying that the All-Star Game is not what it used to be. The game lacks the smoldering intensity of that long-ago decade, when a genuine rivalry—bordering on sheer dislike—existed between the two leagues. But the All-Star Game is still good, as proven by the quality display put on by the American and National League stars on Tuesday night.

This year’s Classic showed baseball at its showcase best. When pitchers don’t dawdle, when they throw strikes repeatedly, and when hitters feel compelled to swing early in the count, the game takes on an aesthetic quality that can draw in the most casual of fans. Of all the pitchers used on Tuesday night, only the insufferable Jonathan Papelbon refused to cooperate with the “work fast” theme. (As he always does, Papelbon routinely took 20 to 25 seconds between pitches.) From an offense standpoint, swinging early and often is not necessarily the best (and certainly not the most sabermetric) way of maximizing a team’s ability to score runs, but deep counts and foul balls are not particularly enjoyable to watch. Most fans want to see the ball put in play, they want to see action, and they want to see highlight reel plays on defense. With a game that ran under two-and-a-half hours, a sustained two-out rally by the National League, and remarkable catches by Carl Crawford in left field and Jayson Werth in center (playing out of position, no less), the 80th All-Star Classic provided all of that.

As always, the All-Star Game supplies plenty of fodder for commentators, both in terms of the game itself and the coverage by the friends at FOX. Here are a few observations, some more pertinent and some more random, about this year’s midsummer game.

{exp:list_maker}Why does the All-Star Game continue to be the “Joe Buck Show?” It’s difficult enough to have to listen to Buck, who would prefer to be at a football game or reading another promo for the NFL, arrogantly strain himself through nine innings of baseball play-by-play, but why does he also have to handle the pre-game introductions and all the in-game ceremonies that take place throughout the night? Aren’t those duties to be handled by the public address announcer at the new Busch Stadium? In addition to a disinterested tone toward baseball, Buck simply lacks the commanding vocal power and presence of a legitimate PA man. (He also apparently doesn’t know how to pronounce Chone Figgins’ first name.) Clearly, there should be a separation between the play-by-play broadcaster and the stadium announcer; I wish that FOX would grasp that distinction by the time the 2011 game rolls around.

I found it curious that FOX provided no close-up shots of Cardinals legend Stan Musial as he made his way toward the infield on a golf cart. Musial’s health has deteriorated badly over the last few seasons, leaving him looking older than his 88 years. Perhaps FOX, out of respect for the gentlemanly Musial, who has long been one of baseball’s nice guys, simply decided to take a more compassionate approach by keeping its distance. If that was the reasoning, FOX should be applauded for its decision.

FOX’s camera work and use of replay was generally good throughout the game, but the camera angle used to follow President Barack Obama’s ceremonial first pitch was inexplicable. No matter whom the President is—and no matter what political party he hails from—we always want to see if he can reach the catcher with his first pitch. FOX’s coverage kept us in the dark because the camera angle initially showed only Obama against the background of the first base stands. It was not until mid-game that we saw the President’s first pitch barely reach Albert Pujols’ glove, which snared the ball a few inches above the ground. Admittedly, this is a minor criticism of the coverage, but the inability to chronicle something as basic as the first pitch does make one wonder about FOX and its capacity to cover baseball.

National League manager Charlie Manuel should have kept Albert Pujols in for the entire game, instead of pulling him after six innings. I don’t care how tired Pujols was; he is the game’s best player, and also happened to be playing in front of his hometown fans in St. Louis. All-Star managers need to lose the Little League/intramural approach of “letting everybody play.” Does anyone, other than a few hometown fans, care if Hunter Pence or Jason Bartlett doesn’t get an at-bat? The game’s most popular superstars—like Pujols, Ichiro, and Derek Jeter—should be allowed to play all nine innings. After all, these are the players the fans voted to see.

On a related note, the National League needs to get over its pathological hatred of the DH. If there were ever a format designed for the designated hitter, it is the All-Star Game. The ability to use a DH on Tuesday night would have allowed Manuel to find more playing time for his three backup first basemen, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, and Ryan Howard, while keeping Pujols at first base for nine innings.

There were no major baserunning blunders in Tuesday night’s game. That’s a far cry from your typical regular season game, where baserunners typically make two to three obvious mistakes per night. Hey, these guys are all-stars for good reason; they know how to run the bases properly. Hopefully, a few players watching at home took note. {/exp:list_maker}

All in all, the All-Star Game provided more than adequate entertainment for a Tuesday night in the middle of the summer. The game could still use some improvement—for one, I’d like the players to cut out the yucks and the giggling, and at least act like something serious is at stake—but its death knell has been largely overplayed. When it comes to staging the All-Star Game, the major leagues are still light years ahead of anything the NFL and the NBA has to offer.

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Comments

  1. Justin said...

    chone is not pronounced like shawn, its pronounced like this “ch-own”.  Theres a ch sound in the beginning which I didn’t understand for the first three years of my Angels fandom followed by the “one” which doesn’t sound like the word one its more like how one is pronounced in the word testosterone.  I know, weird example but its a really unique name.

  2. Gerry said...

    How do you pronounce “Chone”? I’m serious – living in Australia, I see very little baseball on TV. Most of what I know about current players I get from THT and other electronic sources, and that doesn’t include pronunciations.

    There’s a good picture of Stan Musial in the golf cart at http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/gallery/2009/07/wind-up-obama-throws-first-pitch-at-all-star-game.php?img=5

    In that shot, he doesn’t look bad at all for 88.

  3. Jay said...

    Bruce,

    Great article! I have to admit I harbor a huge dislike for Joe Buck. Number one, I never had much respect for men who followed in their father’s footsteps, regardless of their talent, or lack thereof. Number two; The guy does not know how to be objective when he does play-by-play. Sure, he’s a St. Louis guy, but let’s keep the biased comments to yourself, huh? I also agree that his monotone voice is certainly not conducive for PA speaking. Let the Cardinal’s pbp man do it!

    All in all, FOX sports has really fallen off and I hope that in the future, we can break this monopoly the network has on my two favorite sports. Let NBC or CBS, or heck, even ABC have more airtime for our sports!

  4. Andy Brandt said...

    “I never had much respect for men who followed in their father’s footsteps, regardless of their talent, or lack thereof.” Jay

    Why?

    “Sure, he’s a St. Louis guy, but let’s keep the biased comments to yourself, huh?” Jay

    I think he does a very good job at being unbiased and I think he shouldn’t have to hide it during his home town’s AllStar game.  I also think nothing different of Obama for wearing Chisox jacket.
    ——-
    As for the Bruce Markusen article…

    I agree it was a very well played and entertaining game.  Unbelievable defense and I forgot about Werth’s amazing CF catch until your article!  The one big down note for me, being a Cards fan, was Pujol’s error.  Anyone excuse it or do I just because I’m a Cards fan?

    As for Joe Buck.  I don’t understand why people don’t like him.  You call him arrogant and suggest he doesn’t want to be there.  I can see someone thinking that now that you say that but I don’t agree it’s a correct interpretation of how he is.  I really enjoy Joe Buck.  I think he’s funny.  I think he’s makes interesting comments and is smart about baseball.  I don’t really care about an announcer’s delivery if the content is good enough.  I think this AllStar game was a particularly good one for him.

  5. Dennis Koziel said...

    I think the best defensive play of the 2009 All Star game was the great one Young made on Albert Pujols’ hard grounder in the first.  Nine out of ten times, that a solid base hit.

  6. Jay said...

    Gerry and Andy,

    I guess I did not make meaning clear in my first post; and for that, I’m sorry. What I meant to say was: “riding the coattails of his father.” I believe there is a difference. And no, that does not extend to Cal Ripkin.

    The guy just comes across as arrogant and disdainful; and judging by the other opinions here I know I’m not alone. But I’m not gonna say those who like the guy are wrong either. To each his own…

    I will say this, I actually felt bad for him after his HBO special. Artie Lange ruined a pretty good show.

  7. Gerry said...

    Jay, does your disrespect for men who follow in their father’s footsteps extend to Cal Ripken?

    JC-L, thanks for the Chone link.

  8. Rob McQuown said...

    I know this is an incredibly trivial point, but reading your rips on Buck reminded me of an observation I had during his intros…

    Albert Pujols is introduced.  Now, Buck is from STL, Pujols plays for STL, the game is in STL.  One has to think that Buck has given at least some thought to what he’s going to say by way of introducing a player who is on pace to become legendary, right?

    He talks about Pujols’ accomplishments.  I don’t recall the exact wording, but he distinctly said that he had a lot of walks BECAUSE he has a lot of power. 

    Yes, it’s a subtle point, but a) it’s clearly factually wrong, as many players in history with lots of power don’t have lots of walks, and VERY few have as many as Pujols, and b) how long do we have to live with the vestiges of “walks belong exclusively to the pitcher” thinking?  You’d think Bill James was never born!

  9. Rand said...

    “On a related note, the National League needs to get over its pathological hatred of the DH.”
    On the contrary, the American League needs to abandon its pathological obsession with the idiocy of having players who don’t play in the field.  The National League is virtually the last place to play the real game of baseball.  The All Star game should also be a refuge from players who are too old, fat, or incompetent to play the game as it was intended.

  10. Clint said...

    Rand,

    You said “The All Star game should also be a refuge from players who are too old, fat, or INCOMPETENT to play the game as it was intended. “

    Using this same reasoning, you could argue that pitchers should not be allowed to hit, due to the fact that 99% of them are completely incompetent at hitting.  And I’m pretty sure hitting falls under “playing the game as it was intended.”

    The game has evolved to a degree of specialization where 99.9% of players are not talented enough to be both competent hitters and competent pitchers.  The rules should reflect this evolution, not attempt to cling to the ways of a time long gone by.

    (For reference I’m a Cubs fan who mainly watches NL games.)

  11. jwb said...

    “On the contrary, the American League needs to abandon its pathological obsession with the idiocy of having players who don’t play in the field.”

    Is there any other professional or high level amateur league anywhere in the world that doesn’t use a DH? Not snark, I’m curious. I don’t know of any.

  12. Greg Simons said...

    I agree with Rand’s general sentiment, preferring pitchers bat. (Note, I didn’t say “hit”).  For me, it’s the playing-both-sides-of-the-ball argument.  Every other position does it, and that’s how the game was intended to be played.

    I’m not sure why pitchers can’t hit worth a darn.  They don’t have time to work on it?  Starters sit four days out of five, aside from their throw day.  They can’t take some cuts now and then?

    I’m not saying I expect them to hit .280 with patience and power, but how about .210/.250/.320?  (I’m pulling those numbers out of thin air, having no idea what the composite pitcher hitting line has been the last few seasons.  Anyone know?)

    I’m rooting for Casey Kelly to come up as a SS-SP, fielding four out of five days and pitching the fifth.

    I still wonder what Babe Ruth could have accomplished had he continued to take the mound every fourth day and played RF the rest of the time.  Maybe he would have been a shell of what he was, maybe not, but it would have been fascinating to find out.

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