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Baseball’s All Star Game—Big Flash, Small Bang       Share

05 July 2010

It is almost the mid-point of the MLB season, so that means it is time for the All-Star Game coming up on July 13th.  The All-Star Game is referred to as the “Midsummer Classic,” but lately it has been a classic case of Major League Baseball trying to make a buck off of a boring game.  The All-Star Game is just that—at this point in the season, every Major League Baseball player gets three days off unless they are designated as an “All Star,” or one of the best in the league at their position.  Fans, managers, sportswriters, and players combine to fill out the rosters in each league of the 34 players who will play in the All-Star Game during the middle of the three day break in baseball’s regular season.
Why am I so hostile toward the All-Star Game?  For one, you have to go back to 1996 to find an All-Star Game in which the National League was the winning team.  The American League has simply dominated over the past decade and a half due to their stronger lineup of hitters.  So if you want to make a quick buck off of a friend at work, a safe bet would be to take the American League in this summer’s affair too.
The second reason I could do without the All-Star Game is all of the drama regarding who is in and who is out.  Do a quick Google search of “Major League Baseball All Star Game 2010,” and you will get links to all sorts of articles listing the “snubs” from this year’s squad.  Since the fans vote for the starters in each league, they typically vote for their favorite players who have habitually been strong players, even if they are not having a good year this year.  That is how you get a player like Joey Votto, the first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, left off of the All Star Roster.  Votto is among the league leaders in batting average and home runs, but he’ll be taking three days off like most of his fellow major leaguers instead of going to the All Star Game.  When you have a roster with a finite amount of people on it and those people are determined by voting, there is always going to be drama involved—the MLB All Star Game is no different.
Lastly, a few years back MLB basically acknowledged that the game did not “matter” by making a rule change to pique fans’ interest in the contest.  Since 2003, the league that wins the All Star Game is awarded home field advantage in the World Series.  This decision was backed by a huge advertising campaign blaring the message “this time it counts!”  It has certainly counted for the American League as they have maintained home field advantage for every year since the decision was made.  Previously, the home field advantage rotated between each league from year to year.  The problem with the game “counting” is that managers want to get all of their players in the game, as it would be pretty disappointing to go to the All Star Game but not get a chance to play.  So instead of leaving their best players in for the whole game, managers are forced to balance their line ups to get everyone in the game.  Imagine coaching a team and your boss tells you that you need to win the game, but you have to make sure everyone plays.  Not a good combination.
So the week prior to the All Star Game, most fans will be talking about who was snubbed and left off the roster more so than what players they look forward to seeing in the game.  As mentioned, Joey Votto is a huge snub from the Cincinnati Reds as he is in the top five in the National League in home runs, RBIs, and batting average.  Another notable snub is Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver.  Weaver leads the American League in strikeouts and the game is being played in his home stadium—hard to believe that he was left off of the roster.
Lastly, the Home Run Derby has been held on the day before the All Star Game since 1985.  Four players are selected from each league to try to hit as many pitches as they can for home runs over a couple of rounds of play.  The Derby can be exciting when a player is hitting well, but it can be pretty long and only true fans really pay much attention to it.  So the bottom line on the All Star Game—a tradition sustained by the lifeblood of commercialization.
One Liner: “There isn’t much else Joey Votto could have done to be an All Star except for maybe coming in and pitching a few games too.”  (Refers to the most acknowledged All Star snub, Cincinnati Reds first baseman, who has put together a tremendous year but was left off of the All Star roster).

Update: 12 July 2010
Well at least some folks are reading this webpage and responding accordingly.  Late last week, the final roster spot for the American and National League all star teams were determined by a final fan vote.  Joey Votto, arguably the most deserving "snub" from the initial roster, was added to the NL team.  Yankee right fielder Nick Swisher was also added to the AL roster.  This vote leaves Angels pitcher Jered Weaver as the most acknowledged "snub."
One liner:  "The only reason Swisher was picked over Weaver is because he plays for the Yankees."  (Quote alludes to the fact that the Yankees, playing in baseball's biggest media market, have a natural advantage in fan balloting when it comes to the All Star game over teams like the Los Angeles Angels that actually play in Anaheim)

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The Basics

Baseball Regular Season:
Major League Baseball (MLB) is divided into two leagues, the American League (AL) and the National League (NL).  Each league is further divided into three divisions, west, central, and east.  The regular season lasts from early April through early October.  While NL teams mostly play other NL teams and vice versa with the AL, there are occasional times in the regular season that NL teams will play AL teams.  During the regular season, each team plays 162 games.   These games determine who will go to the playoffs—each division winner and one “wild card” team from each league.   
Baseball is a statistics crazy game—true fans will quote batting averages, fielding percentages, slugging percentages, and just about any stat that you could think of for their favorite teams or players.  We’ll explain the ones that you need to know throughout the season. 


Win (for a pitcher):  A pitcher must complete five innings of pitching and his team must be leading when he exits for him to get a win.  A pitcher with 15 wins in a season is doing well; 20 wins is the recognized plateau of excellence.

ERA:  Earned Run Average.  A statistic which measures how many runs a pitcher averages surrendering to opposing teams based on pitching nine innings.  For instance, a pitcher with an ERA of 2.00 would on average give up 2 runs over the course of 9 innings.  ERA’s are always measured to the hundredths.  An ERA of under 3.00 is considered good.  An ERA under 2.00 is excellent and only a handful of pitchers are able to sustain an ERA under 2.00 for an entire season.

Pinch Hit:  when a player that did not start the game comes in to bat for a player that did start the game. 

Batting Average:   How often a player gets a hit.  Batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits by total chances to hit.   If a player walks or is hit by a pitch, such actions are not counted as a chance to hit in calculating the batting average.  A .300 batting average (getting a hit 30% of the time) is considered to be above average for a MLB player.

Mendoza Line:  A euphemism for a .200 batting average.  The term came from a reference to Mario Mendoza, a light hitting infielder in the 1970s that usually batted around .200.  A player that is hitting around the Mendoza Line is lucky to still have a job in the Major Leagues.