TIM DAHLBERG: Puig might make All-Star game fun again
Bruce Bochy wasn’t willing to go with the small sampling size and make Yasiel Puig an All-Star, though he might have been tempted to change his mind after watching the rookie sensation do a little bit of everything in helping the Dodgers to a win Sunday in San Francisco.
The Giants’ manager wasn’t going to leave someone who has played like an All-Star the whole season off the National League squad just to put Puig on it, and that’s OK. But Puig is one of the five finalists that fans can still vote on, and that’s a vote Puig should win in a landslide to get a spot on the team.
Hopefully, that will make Tim McCarver happy, too. The Fox announcer seemed even more insufferable than usual over the weekend in San Francisco when he said an All-Star can’t be minted in just five weeks, but that if the fans really want the Dodgers’ right fielder on the team he won’t avert his eyes when Puig is at the plate.
Make the All-Star game fun and interesting? Well, OK, but only if the fans insist.
That there has been an ongoing debate in recent days over Puig’s selection is probably a good thing for a game that seems to have lost its appeal to all but the hard-core baseball fan. There’s little special about the All-Star game anymore, as evidenced by the fact it has lost half its television audience in the last 20 years.
But fans are talking about Puig, the Cuban who may well be the truest five-tool player to come into baseball in recent times. They will tune in just to watch him, and they might buy tickets to see him in person the next time the Dodgers are in town.
He’s not going to save the All-Star game because the game itself is such an anachronism. Players like making the team and earning the bonuses that often go with it, but even Bud Selig’s ill-suited attempt to make it relevant by giving the winning league home field advantage in the World Series didn’t move the engagement needle among fans.
There was once a time when the All-Star game was really something special. Fans were eager to compare leagues and, aside from spring training and the World Series, the Midsummer Classic was the only place to do it.
Ernie Banks might get his only chance to bat against Whitey Ford. Pete Rose could show Ray Fosse and the rest of the American League how baseball was played in the National League. And Carl Hubbell could introduce his screwball to the American League in spectacular fashion, striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and three other future Hall of Famers in a row in 1934 with a pitch none of them had seen before.
But with the greed of baseball owners knowing no bounds, there’s now interleague play every day of the season. There are so few distinctions between the leagues anymore that even the first appearance by the Dodgers at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 32 years last month barely drew a mention outside New York.
Want to see Justin Verlander face Bryce Harper? Just wait two weeks after the All-Star break and the Washington Nationals will be in Detroit.
Clayton Kershaw against Robinson Cano? The Yankees will play at Dodger Stadium late in July, and there are plenty of tickets available.
At least there’s still some intrigue about Puig, who found his way out of Cuba and into the major leagues when the Dodgers signed him to a $42 million contract. Not even the Dodgers were sure what they had in Puig, but it didn’t take long watching him run crazily around the bases or swing at anything close to the plate to figure out that he is an electric and immensely talented player.
His numbers alone should get him in the game, particularly the .409 average he had after getting two hits in Monday night’s game in Arizona. Yes, he’s had only 132 official at-bats, but Harper won a starting outfield job on the NL squad with less than 200 at-bats himself after being injured for several weeks this season.
Even Bochy was finding it hard to leave Puig out of the mix completely. He’s as old school as they get, but having Puig on the second chance ballot of five players pretty much ensures he’ll have him in uniform next week at Citi Field in New York.
The Dodgers are hosting All-Star voting parties this week for both Puig and Adrian Gonzalez, who is also one of the last five for the final spot. Gonzalez has had a strong first half for the Dodgers, but even he understands his place on the ballot.
“I’m voting for Puig,” Gonzalez said.
Baseball fans will, too, and that’s a good thing. It just might make the game interesting enough to watch.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com.