In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on July 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

When Bud Selig and the big boys at MLB feel compelled to remind you that 79 of 84 players chosen to be All-Stars had actually shown up for the Mid-Summer Classic in Arizona, you know there had to be some raw nerves exposed by the decision of some well known Yankees to miss the event.

Two of the five who skipped the trip to Phoenix (Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez) had both just undergone surgery and were on the D.L.  No problems there.

As for the other three (all Yankees), there were some questions about their absences from one of the sport’s biggest showcases. The bulk of the media ire seemed to be focused on Derek Jeter more than either Mariano Rivera or C.C. Sabathia even though Jeter had said right after he came off the disabled list that he wanted to rest his sore calf and would likely not make the All-Star trip.

Of course, that was before Jeter had his historic moment over the weekend; going 5 for 5 and homering for his 3,000th career hit. It was then that everybody not named Derek Jeter decided that Derek Jeter should appear in Phoenix to continue the “love fest” that erupted after the Yankee captain reached his “Cooperstown first ballot-clinching” milestone.

And, frankly this where Selig and Co. failed in the PR department. Big time! Instead of “backing up” Jeter’s decision not to put in an appearance in the toasty southwest, Bud really should have appealed to Derek to get on the plane and “let the fans and media love him.”

I know Jeter said he was mentally and physically exhausted from his quest for 3,000 hits. I believe him. Wearing pinstripes and living in New York City can do that to a guy. But, seriously folks, all Jeter needed to do was take part in one news conference, take some B.P., doff his cap to the crowd when they introduced him in the pre-game ceremony, take a couple of cuts in one at-bat, play half an inning at short, and spend the rest of the evening in dugout with his teammates. This is what people who get paid the big bucks and wear the captain’s “C” have to do. It comes with the territory.

This kind of stuff is really what separates baseball from the other major sports. It’s more personal and more intimate than football. I know after 16 years in the ‘bigs,’ the All-Star Game probably isn’t all that special anymore. I know the season lasts for over 6 months and you play virtually every day, but one more inning and a night or two of schmoozing isn’t going to kill a guy. Jeter should have been asked to watch the Gatorade commercial in which he appears. What’s the catch phrase? Prime, Perform, Recover! I’m sure the Gatorade folks meant to emphasize the “perform” part.

Baseball is still the national pastime, but it needs to work harder than it did in the 20th century. The All-Star Game has a lot of competition and isn’t the automatic TV ratings winner that it once was. Baseball is also still facing off with the remnants of its steroids era. The Roger Clemens perjury trial is underway, and MLB needs to counter with positive headlines in the face of the negative ones whenever possible. This is what Derek Jeter needed to be reminded of. This is where Bud Selig typically fails in his role as Baseball’s supreme leader. And, you have to admit, Selig has been a particularly weak leader when it comes to decisions revolving around the All-Star game (please see: 2002 Tie Game).

Selig needs to take care that the baseball All-Star Game doesn’t become irrelevant like the NFL Pro Bowl. The NFL has pretty much conceded that no player from the four top four teams will ever play in the Pro Bowl now that it has moved to the week prior to the Super Bowl. (Heck, those guys didn’t show up when it was the week after the Super Bowl and in HAWAII.) Sixteen major leaguers bailed out of the All-Star game for one reason or another, and Boston’s Josh Beckett couldn’t play when he tweaked his knee warming up. People aren’t paying to see middle relievers and second tier talent. They actually want STARS to play in the All-Star game. Seems logical even if it is only for two or three innings. (And, don’t get me started on the “if you pitched Sunday, you can’t even pitch an inning on Tuesday” rule. Why do we treat these guys like they’re fragile pieces of glass?)

Okay, back on point now.

This is where a Jeter and his sore calf, Rivera and his sore triceps, and Sabathia and his bruised ego have to suck it up, and at the very least, put in a token appearance.

Which brings me to C.C. Sabathia. I know he probably wasn’t happy to initially get left off the A.L. All-Star squad despite his gaudy record. What was Ron Washington thinking? But, Sabathia bailed out of going to Phoenix based on his pitching a complete game Sunday which made him ineligible to play Tuesday, and on the notion that he had already scheduled a family vacation in the Bahamas during the break. Say what? VACATION???

The Angels’ Jordan Walden had a vacation planned until he got the call to replace Rivera. He managed to cancel his plans. How come C.C. couldn’t do the same?  And, I know that he couldn’t play because he pitched Sunday, but what if that game had been rained out? What then, C.C.?

The baseball season (including spring training) runs from the middle of February through October! Vacation time is somewhere between November 1 and January 31. It’s been this way for over a century. Today’s ballplayers are lucky to be paid well enough, so they can take a winter vacation and don’t have to find an off-season job to make ends meet like many guys had to do as recently as 40 years ago.

Enough of my rant – now some thoughts on the All-Star Game itself:

Bruce Bochy may have given future managers a blueprint on how to attack the game in the “must-win for homefield advantage in the World Series” era. He treated innings like mini-games. Cliff Lee gets in a bind in the 4th – send in Tyler Clippard to get out of the jam. Jair Jurrjens gets in a bind in the 7th – send in Craig Kimbrel. Then simply close out the game in the usual fashion – set up men in the 8th – closers in the 9th. Done deal.

So much for playing by the book. Both homeruns were hit by left-handed hitters off of left-handed pitchers.

What are the odds of a pitcher getting the “W” without technically getting anybody out? Tyler Clippard of the Nationals gave up a base hit to the one batter he faced. Luckily, Hunter Pence saved his bacon with a strong throw home to erase a run and end the inning. The N.L. takes the lead for good in the bottom half of that inning, and Clippard goes home with an All-Star victory in his back pocket.

Sticking with the relief pitchers. Just how far is Jordan Walden allowed to leap off the pitching rubber before releasing the ball? It seems unfair to close that much distance between the mound and home plate.

Will the Padres’ Heath Bell be sent a bill from the D-Backs groundskeeping crew? That was way more than just a little divot that he ripped up with that slide to the mound in the 8th inning.

Did baseball purists even notice the first-ever use of a Designated Hitter in an N.L. park? Although, I’m not a fan of the D.H., I think it’s a good idea to use it in the All-Star Game.

Was it me or did Joe Buck’s voice actually seem to get stronger as the night went on? Buck’s vocal cords have been under a serious viral attack since he did the Super Bowl for Fox Sports. Joe told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he’s taking singing lessons to strengthen his voice. He might not be 100% until the World Series rolls around.

And, speaking of Fox… actually, D.C.’s local FOX 5. Why did they keep airing the same news promo over and over all night? Honestly, would it have killed them to record a second or a third version? Or did they not have enough interesting news to bother?

At least, the game was decent.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:

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