This time of year, one is often torn between arguing that the All-Star Game is "for the fans" and cringing at some of the decisions those fans make. Well, no one ever said democracy was easy. Then, too, some of the All Stars who were voted in by other players (sort of an oligarchy, I suppose) or picked by the managers (benevolent dictatorship) are far more baffling choices.
On the whole, and compared to some past years, the 2013 roster -- announced Saturday -- is pretty reasonable, especially on the NL side. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to argue about. After all, that's at least half the point.
The biggest name not on the roster, or at least the name sparking the loudest objections, is Yasiel Puig. He wasn't called up in time to be on the ballot, so he would've had to make it in as a write-in; the last player to pull that off was Steve Garvey, way back in 1974 (and for what it's worth, Garvey was the MVP that year). Bruce Bochy made it clear several weeks ago that he wasn't going to be picking Puig, because he hadn't been up long enough, and a few players chimed in as well, most forcefully Jonathan Papelbon.
Puig is now one of the "Final Vote" candidates in the NL, and if he wins that, as seems pretty likely, the problem is essentially solved. This is basically why the Final Vote exists. Still, it does shine a light on the All-Star Game's biggest contradiction.
From the perspective of players like Papelbon and former players like Bochy, Puig simply doesn't have the seniority. If your employer brought on a new staff member and then gave him a bonus and award less than two months in, while here you'd been working hard at this job for years, well, you probably wouldn't like that either.
But what do the fans care about seniority? They just want to see a combination of the best and most exciting players, presumably, and Puig is certainly that. This is all supposed to be for the fans … isn't it? The All-Star Game is in a strange limbo: it counts for home field advantage in the World Series now, yet each team is also saddled with the need to cater to the audience, from the initial voting to getting as many players as possible into the game to having to have a player from each team, and so on. Each manager has to take it seriously yet is hamstrung in doing so.
No matter what you think the game's primary purpose is, or should be, though, there are some choices here worth debating. Most notably:
Ian Desmond is included in the NL's final vote, so he still has a shot, but it's hard to see anyone other than Nationals fans and members of the Desmond family picking him over Puig. Still, if there's one non-Puig NL player not currently on the roster who deserves to go to CitiField, it's Desmond. I probably would have chosen him over Marco Scutaro, but to be fair Scutaro is having a really excellent year himself. (Scutaro has a higher average and on-base percentage; Desmond has 15 homers to Scutaro's two. That's a tough call and I can't blame Bochy for picking his guy, if indeed that was his pick and not a player vote).
I would guess that Bochy picked another one of his guys in Madison Bumgarner, who is having a good but unexceptional year. There's a place when you might have gotten in someone like Freddie Freeman or Russell Martin. Those two are right on Desmond's heels for the "biggest NL snub" title.
J.J. Hardy At AL Shortstop
This is not a great choice by the fans, but to be fair, take a look at the AL shortstops this season. It's a pretty star-free zone; we're a very long way from the glory days of Jeter-A-Rod-Tejada-Garciaparra. If you pick without looking at all the stats -- like a lot of fans do, which is understandable, since this is supposed to be fun, not work -- Hardy is one of the more obvious choices, on the strength of previous good seasons and the Orioles' success. When you do look at the numbers, you see that both Jhonny Peralta and Jed Lowrie are having significantly better seasons at the plate.
Where's Evan Longoria? This is the choice, out of all of these, that's toughest to defend. When you play the same position in the same league as Miguel Cabrera, you're not getting voted in -- nor should you be, really. Longoria's having a great year to Cabrera's mega-great year. Still, he should absolutely have been included. He is the AL's most glaring omission, and it's a much bigger/clearer one than the NL's exclusion of Desmond and Freeman.
Carlos Santana is probably a close second, or at least in a neck-and-neck tie with A's third baseman Josh Donaldson. How you make room for Ben Zobrist (on a team not lacking for second basemen) but not any of these guys, I do not understand.
Then there's pitcher Bartolo Colon. It's not clear if Colon was voted in by the players or selected by Jim Leyland, but I'd be curious to find out. I like Colon, enjoy watching him pitch, am impressed by the year he's having at age 40. And I am generally not someone who generally gets too worked up over PED use. I don't think someone who tests positive once should be kicked out of the game, or shunned, or miss an entire season. That said… I'm also not sure that person should be an All Star the very next season, especially when there are a number of very qualified A's players who have no such baggage -- Lowrie, Donaldson, Grant Balfour -- and yet did not make this squad. At a time when MLB is so keen to look tough on drugs that they're using all kinds of extraordinary measures to try and punish players involved in the Biogenesis mess, this is probably not the message baseball intends to send. It's hardly the end of the world, but it seems, at the very least, inconsistent.
The Whole AL Final Vote Selection
I take back what I said about Evan Longoria… this, in fact, is the least-understandable All-Star Game choice. Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers, and Koji Uehara: Those are some really good middle relievers, but come on. The AL team already is carrying six relievers. Is Jim Leyland subconsciously channeling his own bullpen issues here?
The NL has Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman and Hunter Pence. Meanwhile, the AL has some good bullpen pieces who, let's be honest, few casual fans have heard of, and even fewer are tuning in to watch. This is where you could have let Longoria, Santana, Donaldson and Lowrie battle it out. Instead, you can bet that many thousands of fans will head over to vote for Puig in the NL, scratch their heads in bewilderment at these choices and pick someone largely at random. Which I suppose is one way to shake up the voting.