Call me old-fashioned. Go ahead. You wouldn’t actually be too far off. But I believe our All-Stars should be our very best players. Not the players who have the best statistics in sometimes ridiculously small sample sizes. But the best players with the greatest skills.
In a related (and ironic) note, the following pitchers saw action in All-Star Games in the last four years: Hung-Chih Kuo, Matt Capps, Andrew Bailey, Jordan Walden, Brandon League, Chris Perez, Tyler Clippard, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Cook, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Grant Balfour, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar.
Here’s a little tip: When the reaction in five years will almost assuredly be, "Wait, he was an All-Star?" … well, you might have done something wrong.
Look, nothing against Dellin Betances, and I’m actually thrilled for Pat Neshek, whom I’ve been following with great interest for some years. I’m just not sure if anyone had good pitchers pitching great for 30 innings in mind when they came up with the All-Star Game.
And unlike a lot of things we complain about, this really is a fairly new phenomenon. Yes, there have always been non-stars in All-Star Games. But they have not often been relief pitchers. In 1974, only nine pitchers pitched in the entire All-Star Game, and all of them were starters except two: superstar reliever Rollie Fingers and superstar reliever Mike Marshall. And there was just one more reliever on either roster: Detroit’s John Hiller, who’d finished fourth in MVP voting the year before.
Granted, the rosters weren’t nearly as large back then, either. And that’s probably the best way to explain the now-annual surfeit on the All-Star rosters of good relievers having great seasons. With all those slots to fill, it becomes easier to make the case for players that most fans wouldn’t know from Adam Dunn.
Do Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar really belong on an All-Star team? Well, that all comes back to a question Bill James asked some years ago: "Who is the game for?"
Turns out it’s for nobody in particular, and for everybody. It’s for the fans, who get to vote in a starting catcher who’s played in 26 games all season and will spend the rest of this season recuperating from major elbow surgery. It’s for the TV network that gets to promote the last hurrah of the third-greatest shortstop in major-league history. And these days, more than anything it’s for the players, represented by the most powerful union in the history of organized labor.
Everybody wants to be an All-Star. Everybody wants to be described forever after as an All-Star. Last year there were 79 All-Stars. Think about that. At any one moment, there are 750 players on active rosters. Roughly 250 of those players are part-time catchers, utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and relief pitchers who don’t get to warm up during close games. That leaves roughly 500 players in key roles. So if you’re one of those players, you’ve got roughly a 1-in-6 chance of being an All-Star forever.
So, yeah, the starting lineups are for the fans, mostly. But all the rest is for the players. People love to blame the fans, and they love to blame the TV network, when the All-Star Game doesn’t seem as great as it used to. If you really want to blame somebody, though, you should probably start with the well-paid gentlemen who actually run the sport.