The 2014 edition of the Mid-Summer Classic took place last night in Minneapolis, MN. This All-Star Game focused primarily around the retirement of one of the greatest players of my generation, Derek Jeter. And, of course, as with any All-Star Game, there was plenty of controversy surrounding it. Much of this drama was centered around Mike Matheny and Adam Wainwright.
First, I think it was great how Jeter was honored last night. He has been a classy ballplayer his entire career and has put up very good numbers as well. He also has 5 World Series Championships. He was the American League lead-off hitter and was introduced to a standing ovation by the fans as well as the players. He was also introduced with a recording of the famous late New York Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard. “Now batting for the American League, from the New York Yankees, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter. Number two.” As always, Jeter tried to downplay the hooplah and play baseball. It had to be emotional for him though, as the players on the NL squad stood at their positions and applauded. As Jeter was removed from the game, he received yet another standing ovation and curtain call as he shook the hands of his teammates. A classy send off for a classy player.
On to the drama of the night. The first bit of controversy seems rather childish in my opinion. Some fans were upset Matheny chose Wainwright to start the All-Star Game for the National League over Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many claim Wainwright was given the start because Matheny was playing favorites for his own pitcher. While this likely did have something to do with Matheny’s pick (and why wouldn’t it?), Wainwright’s numbers also back-up his justification to be the starter. Really, either Wainwright or Kershaw deserved to start since their numbers are nearly identical. Wainwright leads in wins, but Kershaw leads in strikeouts. Wainwright leads in innings pitched, but Kershaw leads in ERA (barely). Wainwright started 5 more games due to Kershaw being injured earlier in the season. Sure, Kershaw is hotter right now, but Wainwright has had a great first half too. So, it is no wonder Wainwright got the start over Kershaw. No drama there if you ask me.
The second bit of controversy revolves around what Wainwright said in a late-game interview. As Daniel Solzman discussed in his article Wainwright said he gave Jeter a pitch to hit since it was his last All-Star Game. Wainwright intended for that to be a joke, but many people misinterpreted it. And honestly I can see why. But, to be frank, who cares what Wainwright said??? The All-Star game is intended to be an exhibition for us, the fans. This whole thing about the winning league receiving home field advantage during the World Series is a sham that never should have happened. Fans were outraged in 2002 when the All-Star Game ended in a tie due to each league running out of pitchers. The managers for each league decided to call it a game to avoid injury to any players. In my opinion, that was a great move. Why risk anything in a game that doesn’t matter. However, Commissioner Bud Selig decided that should never happen again so he made the All-Star Game a competitive match. This has done nothing but ruin the All-Star game in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
I thought it was absolutely AMAZING to see Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera jabbing each other and smiling when McCutchen reached in the top of the first. That is exactly what this game is about. Let these stars go out and have fun and put on a show for the fans. This is, afterall, intended to be an exhibition for the fans. The fans vote players in to this game because they want to see them play. This game should never be a competitive duel. If it is, many players will get overlooked and not be placed into the game to receive the recognition they deserve since the managers will have to conserve players in case of extra innings. That being said, who cares if Waino gave Jeter a pitch or not? If he did (and I don’t think he did), I have no problem with it. Jeter deserved to get a hit in every at bat he had. He also deserved to play every inning of that game because that is what the fans would have wanted to see. Don’t get me wrong, I do like that this game is competitive, unlike the NBA or NFL All-Star Games. But making this game decide who has home field advantage in the World Series is unnecessary. These guys are natural born competitors. They will play hard and showcase their skills for the fans. It will be a competitive game regardless.
Back to the Wainwright drama. If Wainwright did give a pitch to Jeter, does that mean he also give one to Miguel Cabrera? I doubt it. Maybe, just maybe, Wainwright was off last night. It happens from time to time to even the best pitchers in the game. On top of that, maybe, just maybe, Derek Jeter is a great player and got a hit off Wainwright. That doesn’t seem that far-fetched looking at Jeter’s career.
Perhaps the main thing being overlooked here is that Tony Gwynn did not receive any sort of memorial ceremony. Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters of all-time and was also a very classy player (like Jeter). He was a leader on and off the field, and a great human being. Gwynn was also a 15 time All-Star, and passed away less than a month ago. I feel like FOX and MLB should have done something to remember and honor him as well.