by Howard Bender
While October 5th will likely be the saddest day of the year for fantasy baseballers, these last three and a half days, the All Star Break, run a very close second. I know that, as a baseball fan, I should remove myself from the fantasy world and just enjoy the All Star festivities, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Perhaps if all of my teams (and I have 5 of them this season) were floundering in the bottom part of the standings, I'd be able to pull myself out of these baseball doldrums, but thankfully, I am no lower than third in any of my leagues. And because of that, I pain through the All Star Break with a sense of anxiousness mixed with apathy.
First of all, let's talk about the Home Run Derby a.k.a the kiss of death for most particiapants and certain atrocity for the winner. We'll see how Prince Fielder fares after taking the "honors" this season, but remember how Bobby Abreu went into the tank after winning the Derby in 2005? His second half was horiffic that year, and after being a consistent 20 to 30 HR guy in seasons before, he failed to break the 20 HR barrier the next 2 years. Last year he knocked out an even 20.
And how about Justin Morneau last year? After winning the Derby, he went on to bat .267 with only 9 HR in the second half -- one of his worst second half performances to date. Guys like that just don't belong in a contest like this. I'm still wondering what Joe Mauer was doing there this year.
The Derby is meant for the mashers, plain and simple. Guys like Ryan Howard and Vladimir Guerrero didn't have too much trouble getting back to business in the second half because that's what they are...mashers. Howard has the big loping swing designed to loft the ball into the bleachers each and every time. Vlad just hacks at anything and everything, so he didn't have to change a thing. But guys like Morneau, Mauer, Abreu, etc., they're pure hitters. Sure they bang out a home run here and there, but they're also disciplined enough to maintain their mechanics to do other things like hit the ball into the gaps or to go the other way if necessary. Hitting a home run is no their goal each time they step into the batter's box...hitting the ball is. So when I see someone I own in one of my leagues participating, I cringe and hope for the "worst".
Like this year, for example. This season I own Mauer in one league and Adrian Gonzalez in another. I used to own Howard, but traded him weeks ago. When Mauer and Gonzalez put up pathetic, and in Mauer's case, non-existent, totals, I was relieved. Get them out of there. Back to the bench, meat. No reason to screw things up today. I need you too much in the second half to worry. If you ask me, and you still want to do this silly Home Run Derby thing, then invite the top 5 home run leaders in each league and if they play they play, if not, then let it go. No need to fill in with other All Stars. Chase Utley does not need the extra batting practice and he certainly doesn't need to screw up his swing.
Then there's this whole All Star Game thing. Now I know every sport has there version, and frankly I'm not against it. But trying to make more out of the game than it really should be is just plain silly. "This time it counts," could very well have been the dumbest of Bud Selig's ideas as he scrambled to recover from the tie game blunder of 2002. No one likes it. The players don't like it, the managers don't like it, and the fans really don't give a damn either. Home field advantage should be decided by the best overall record and that's that.
But the home field advantage isn't what bugs me about the game. It's this false sense of importance that you're putting on something that should simply be a fun celebration of guys having a great first half. Now, you're turning it into a "serious" game putting players in a terrible position to perform at their optimum level for a game that doesn't matter. Hard slides, hit batsmen, overuse -- all of it is now involved and it puts players at risk. Do you think Jose Lopez wants to take a hard slide at second from Shane Victorino? Absolutely not. The Mariners certainly don't care who has home field advantage in the Series because they ain't going! Lopez has a city to go home and play for and a contract to think about. Rather than enjoy his time with baseball's elite, he's worrying that some idiot is going to come in wide to break up a double play attempt. That's not what the All Star Game should be about.
It's the same thing with the pitchers and hitters. It's an All Star Game for crab's sake!! Yes, in a competitive game Derek Jeter should be pitched inside to jam him. But is it really necessary to do it here? I don't care if Tim Lincecum thinks it hit the knob of the bat, it came dangerously close to breaking a hand, a finger, whatever. This isn't like Randy Johnson and John Kruk joking around up there like it used to be (remember when that pitch sailed over Kruk's head and he flipped his helmet around for "additional protection"?). This is now guys being told to play it like it's game 7 of the World Series, and it just shouldn't be that way.
Look at the Pro Bowl in football; The NBA All Star Game. Ever watch anyone get hammered into the boards during the NHL's mid season classic? No. Of course not. Why? Because each of these games is a celebration within the sport. What Selig has done here is taken the fun out of watching a gathering of superstars and turned it into a nightmare for fantasy owners everywhere. No one wants to watch their best guy go on the DL because he took a pitch to the ribs in the All Star Game. That's just ridiculous.
Now I know baseball won't go the route of the NFL and put a meaningless game into a more meaningless date like after the World Series, but they need to do something to reduce the injury risk for a game that should strictly be about celebrating the greats of the modern game. Maybe it was because I wasn't so into the fantasy aspect in my youth, but I had fun watching guys like Rod Carew and George Brett and Steve Carlton out there. They played the game like little leaguers and it was fun for everyone. No one was worried that Ron Guidry was going to brush Andre Dawson back off the plate, and if he did, it was with an eephus pitch to make everyone laugh. This modern day competitiveness contrived by Selig and his greedy cohorts needs to go and it needs to go fast. If his goal was to increase fan interest, he's failed miserably. Apathy and disdain is all I feel.
Looking to see who the top picks are for a second half breakout? Check out the Second Half Heroes and Zeroes over at Rotobuzz.com.
Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and champion in both rotisserie and head to head leagues. For questions, thought, or comments, you can email him at Howard.Rotobuzz@yahoo.com.