Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw not in the All-Star Game? That’s like having the Inaugural Ball and not inviting the president. It’s like going to the Vatican to watch the pope celebrate high Mass at Christmas only to learn the pontiff has been replaced by a parish priest. Thirty-three of the 34 players have been selected for the 2015 game, and so far the only way the top pitcher in baseball can see the game is if he tunes in Fox. The players who have been flailing away at Kershaw’s electric repertoire of pitches for the last four dominating years didn’t find him worthy for one of their 16 selections. But here’s the real good part. Giants manager Bruce Bochy could have righted the wrong by selecting him with three pitching openings he had. But Bochy pretty much delivered a broadside to Dodger Blue. He chose instead his own Madison Bumgarner, certainly deserving after his historic 2014 post season; a 17-year veteran nearing the end of his career with just one winning season in the last five years; and a third-year pitcher with 19 career wins. Kershaw swept the MLB’s pitching Oscars last year with the MVP and Cy Young awards, yet on one of baseball’s biggest stage, Bochy was Ok with sending Sacheen Littlefeather to the mound instead of Marlon Brando. Call it the Snub Heard Round the World.
What did Kershaw do to offend the baseball gods? Has he been caught betting on a game? Did he improve his velocity with steroids? Did he agree to be Donald Trump’s running mate? Kershaw still has one final shot at an All-Star berth as fans embark on an Internet-crazed vote the next couple of days, choosing from a list of five survivors. He should buy a fancy yacht with his millions, and sail away, leaving the other four waiting in this demeaning process to be voted off of the island.
Here are Kershaw’s numbers starting in 2011, with wins-losses, ERA and strikeouts. 2011: 21-5, 2.28, 248. 2012: 14-9, 2.53, 229. 2013: 16-9, 1.83, 232. 2014: 21-3, 1.77, 239. That’s approaching Sandy Koufax territory, recalling the legendary lefthander’s remarkable four-year run from 1963-1966. This year, Kershaw is 5-6, 3.08, 147, although the win-loss record is skewed because of dismal run support. Still, he is on pace to strike out around 290, the most of any Dodger since Koufax in 1966. Beyond that, others have noted that Kershaw ranks solidly in the new wave of statistics that measure players’ performances by evaluating other factors beyond the traditional ones I listed above.
What has happened to Kershaw is something baseball should address to make certain that the All-Star Game’s selection format doesn’t leave out, well, “stars.” In the 1960s era, for example, the game’s stars were pretty much assured of being selected, and then a few players were added who were having an exceptional season in that given year. So you could count on seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and other greats. The big difference now is that voting by fans, players and the manager is based too much on who got hot from April to June of that season. With the expansion of rosters to 34, and usually a few replacements for injured players who can’t make it to the game, there is less of a chance that the star with a mediocre first three months would be left out. Baseball needs to establish the Willie Mays rule: Mays played in 24 consecutive All-Star games. He wasn’t always the stat leader in the first half of the season, but it wouldn’t be an All-Star Game without him. Perhaps the commissioner’s office should have one or two special selections just to make sure its showcase game doesn’t leave out the show’s best.
MLB should at least be motivated to act on this if for no other reason than ratings, since that is the lifeblood of the gazillion-dollar TV contracts. With that in mind, why isn’t Alex Rodriguez on the American League roster? AL manager Ned Yost of the Royals said he didn’t pick the controversial Yankee because he needed more “flexibility” in his lineup and Rodriguez was just a DH. Flexibility? You’ve got 34 players! And Yost also reminds that the winner of this game gives their league champion home-field advantage in the World Series. Like that helped you out last year Ned. We all agree that Rodriguez has made a mess of his and baseball’s reputation, but the guy still has star power as well as 670 home runs. Let’s suppose it’s the top of the ninth in Cincinnati, NL leading 3-2, two on, two out, and Reds’ menacing closer Aroldis Chapman on the hill waiting to gun down the final batter with his frightening 100-mph heat. Look over the AL reserve roster. Do you really see anyone who would make this a magic, riveting moment? Thought not. Well, how about if Yost had the flexibility to pinch-hit Arod? MLB likes to call it the Mid-Summer Classic, and while that’s usually a stretch, that faceoff truly would be an All-Star classic.
My experience in watching the All-Star Game over the years is that the buildup is almost always much better than the game, and that barring some very unusual moment, everyone forgets about it quickly and turns their focus back to the second half of the season. I’ve been to two All-Star Games and they were dry. The NL won 3-1 at chilly Candlestick Park in 1984 in a game marred by 21 strikeouts. The other was in Oakland in 1987 won by the NL 2-0. I attended the Home Run Derby at AT&T Park in San Francisco in 2007, which was probably the most boring time I ever had at a ballpark. However, I’ll never forget an impromptu, unofficial home run derby that suddenly broke out during batting practice featuring Reggie Jackson and Eddie Murray at the 1984 game. I was sitting in the front row of the right-field stands as the pair of AL sluggers ripped shot after shot at us. Fans started yelling “Incoming”! after each rocket blast. A fan next to me had the unfortunate experience of trying to catch one with his bare hand. I can still hear the splat, and I do believe the commissioner’s signature is still embedded in his palm.