Heading into Monday night's series opener with the Rays, Kevin Youkilis led the American League in runs (64). He was third in on-base percentage and fourth in slugging. There were four players in the AL with an OPS of 1.000 or better, and Youkilis was one of them. OK, if you had to vote for MVP of the AL today Youkilis wouldn't be the winner -- that would be Justin Morneau -- but there is no way he'd finish out of the Top 5.
He is one of the five best players in the American League (and he isn't a newly introduced character to the national scene, of course; he was top six in MVP voting in 2008 and 2009) and the absolute steadying hand for an offense that has exceeded all expectations to lead the AL in runs, slugging and OPS. Throw in the fact that the Red Sox have the second-best record in baseball, and the defense can take a seat.
Kevin Youkilis is an All-Star.
Not close, not on the bubble. Youkilis is having a no-doubt, has-to-be-on-the-team-for-the-game-to-have-any-shred-of-credibility kind of season.
But (for now, at least) Youkilis is not an American League All-Star in 2010. However, Ty Wigginton (Youkilis has a slugging percentage 134 points higher than Wiggy, or roughly the difference between Adrian Beltre and Bill Hall this season) will be in Anaheim.
A total disgrace, but sadly not even close to a shock. This kind of garbage happens every year. Why? A couple of reasons:
The "One Guy From Every Team" rule is just plain dopey
It's not Wigginton's fault that he made the All-Star Team. It would actually be a nice story (it's his first selection) if he deserved a spot and wasn't taking the place of someone who would be a better option if you were really trying to win the game. I mean, doesn't it count this time? That's what FOX and Bud Selig have been telling us for the last couple of years.
But Wigginton is an example of a dated rule that needs to be shown the door. Baltimore is 25-56. On pace to win 50 games. If you brought the 1983 Orioles back today I think they take a best-of-five series against this crew of stiffs. (Why not? Al Bumbry is only 63 years old.) There is no reason to put an Oriole on the All-Star team just for the sake of having one player from each team represented. It's ludicrous. Do you think any Baltimore fan is going to tune in to the All-Star Game, fingers crossed that Ty Wigginton might get a chance to pinch-hit against Arthur Rhodes in the eighth inning? Of course not. Baltimore fans don't care about the Orioles right now. No one goes to the games. Again, if this really supposed to be the best players in the game playing for a not-insignificant prize (more on that later) then let's start by getting rid of a rule that often blocks a half-dozen or so players every year from getting into the game.
The managers are clearly biased
Well, maybe not, on second thought. I mean, Charlie Manuel made some terrific points when he explained how he chose Ryan Howard over Joey Votto:
“He’s my guy. My player, my guy,” Manuel said. “Howard’s my guy and the fact that their numbers are very close, I had to go with my guy. Their seasons are very close. Howard has one more multiple-hit game and Joey’s got a better on-base percentage.”
Hmmm, the "one more multi-hit game" argument. Hadn't thought of that one. Superbly played, Charlie. And don't forget that Howard has two more RBI than Votto. You combine those and it almost makes up for Votto's 70-point edge in slugging, 63-point lead in OBP (yup -- that would be a 133-point difference in OPS), 20-walk advantage and 19-point batting average spread. Remember when I wrote earlier that Youkilis has had a great first half but wasn't the AL MVP? Well, Votto has had a great first half and is the NL MVP. And, like Youkilis, he'll need the Internet vote to make the team.
(And there's another knock with the system. Right now Nick Swisher -- NICK SWISHER -- leads in the final vote balloting for the 83rd man or whatever number the roster is now. Think the big cities have an edge on this one? Here's the American League winners since the Final Vote began in 2002:
Johnny Damon -- Boston
Jason Varitek -- Boston
Hideki Matsui -- New York
Scott Podsednik -- Chicago
A.J. Pierzynski -- Chicago
Hideki Okajima -- Boston
Evan Longoria -- Tampa
Brandon Inge -- Detroit
Except for Longoria it's all major cities. And you're most likely looking at Swisher (more than 100 points behind Youkilis in OPS) or Youkilis this year. The big cities have a monster advantage. First, more people live in them, so the local fan base is bigger. Throw in the "Red Sox and Yankees have fans everywhere" factor and it's not even close. Popularity contest all the way. The Royals could have a guy hitting .380 and he probably wouldn't get a sniff next to Swisher and Youkilis. Just another flaw in how these teams are put together.)
But you know what? I don't blame Charlie Manuel one bit. His first, second, third and 688th loyalty should be to the Phillies. They -- not Joey Votto or the outraged group that thinks Votto got screwed with his pants on -- pay Manuel a couple of million bucks a year to manage. And to keep making a couple of million bucks a year it would sure help if Ryan Howard, you know, likes him. So if he thinks picking Ryan Howard will keep Ryan Howard happy, he has to do it.
Same goes, of course, for Joe Girardi. If Joe really cared about picking the best team for this All-Star Game, Alex Rodriguez would be home and Youkilis would be a backup first/third baseman.
Youkilis: .299 BA, 17 HR, 54 RBI, .416 OBP, .584 slugging
A-Rod: .276 BA, 12 HR, 62 RBI, .349 OBP .486 slugging
But what is Girardi supposed to do? Risk losing A-Rod (who, breaking news here, is kinda insecure) over a game that no one (sorry, Bud) really takes all that seriously?
And also don't forget the Bonus Factor -- $50K this year for Howard, for example. Doesn't seem much next to the nine-figure contracts, but these guys care about that stuff.
For me that is Problem A and 1A if you want to fix the All-Star Game. Get rid of the one-team, one-player rule and do not let a manager be in charge of picking his own players. If an athletic director is on the NCAA basketball tournament committee and his team comes up as a possible at-large candidate, the AD leaves the room during the entire discussion and doesn't have a "yes" or "no" vote. Would it be so difficult to somehow translate that to the All-Star Game selection process? Find a writer and a retired player or front-office guy (I don't know -- think Rob Neyer and Keith Hernandez) each year with no connection to the team of either manager and let them hammer out how many Yankees or Phillies (or whoever) should be on the team and let the manager pick from there. Cap the total if you want. Let the MLB Network televise it, even. A perfect system? Not even close. But at least it removes a clear bias. That would be a start, right?
And I get that the All-Star Game isn't what it used to be. There was a time when Tim Lincecum vs. Derek Jeter would have been an event. Now it's something that we're pretty sure we saw in interleague play a couple of years ago. That feeling and the cable TV explosion over the last quarter-century pretty much led to Bud creating the "League that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field in the World Series" deal.
So that's why this stuff gets me worked up, and it should if you are a Red Sox fan. If you are down a run in the ninth-inning do you want Kevin Youkilis or Ty Wigginton at the plate? Remember, a loss means that you could play Game 7 of the World Series on the road. All that would mean is that in the most important game of the year the Red Sox would have a lineup without either Youkilis, Beltre or Ortiz. Think that would get the lines cooking at 'EEI?
Maybe this one does count. That's what they tell us.
Too bad we can't count on them to get it right.