There’s been a lot of talk over the past week regarding whether or not the Dodgers phenom outfielder should be allowed to make the N.L. All-Star Team, given that he’s only been in the Majors for little more than one month. Yesterday, Phillies relief pitcher Jonathon Papelbon, who has never pitched more than 75 innings over the course of an entire season, and who’s been named to five All Star squads, made the following statement:
“The guy’s got a month, I don’t even think he’s got a month in the big leagues,” Papelbon said during the interview. “Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me.
Papelbon added that it would, in his opinion, be disrespectful to veteran ballplayers who’ve been around for years to have Puig named to the All Star team.
Dear Jon, Allow me to retort:
1) According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, no player since Joe DiMaggio back in the 1930’s has started his career with as much early success as has Puig. We are not talking about a normal player on a short hot streak, we are witnessing baseball history every time Puig comes to the plate.
2) Through last night’s game, Puig is now batting .440 through his first 109 MLB at bats. Not enough at bats to impress you? Well, even if Puig went hitless in his next 50 at bats (about half the number he already has), he’d still be batting over .300. Does anyone believe he’ll go zero for his next 50? If he bats just .250 over his next 200 at bats, he’ll still be batting around .317. Would you say a .317 batting average, with power, is enough to justify an All Star nod? I would.
3) Puig already has the highest WAR of any Dodgers position player, at 2.6. Shouldn’t the best position player on a team garner serious All Star consideration?
4) Papelbon’s argument that a Puig All Star nomination would be disrespectful to MLB veterans is patently absurd. There have been other rookies who have made All Star teams in the past. Just because most of them began the season in April, garnering three full months (!) instead of Puig’s one month, is hardly enough of a difference to single Puig out as somehow being not worthy of this honor.
5) The rule that has been in place for many years that requires each team, regardless of the caliber of its players, to have at least one representative for the All Star game has resulted in many questionable “All Stars” over the years. The idea that seems to be floating out there that the All Star Game is and always has been for only the best of the best hasn’t been true for decades, if it ever was the case at all. Meanwhile, Puig might very well be one of the top ten, if not the top five, players in the game right now.
6) Attendance is down throughout the Majors. Translation: The product is not selling as well has it has in the past. The players, meanwhile, are the product. They are not the marketers, nor are they the gate-keepers of what the fans “should” be allowed to spend their hard-earned money on. Next time Papelbon cashes a paycheck, he should keep that in mind.
7) The All-Star Game is an exhibition. It’s primary purpose is to promote The Game. (The charade of home-field advantage being decided for the World Series is and always has been an afterthought.) Question: Are the fans less likely or more likely to watch this exhibition on T.V. if Puig gets to play? How about fans in the greater L.A. area, the second biggest market in America?
8) Baseball is also about winning, correct? When the Puig joined the Dodgers in early June, they were at or near the bottom of the standings in the N.L. West. Now, they are just 2 1/2 games out of first place, and have won ten of their last eleven games. Certainly, this dramatic turnaround has not all been attributable to Puig. Yet, if Puig was still languishing down in the minors, do you really think the Dodgers would now be this close to the top of the standings? I don’t.
9) No one remembers entire All-Star games, but they do remember individual, specific moments. People remember Bo Jackson in ’89, or Dave Parker’s throw to the plate in ’79, or Ted Williams walk-off homer in ’41. Isn’t it as likely as not that Puig will do something in this year’s All Star Game that fans will remember for years to come? There’s no way to know, unless he gets to play.
10) Finally, if Papelbon’s point of view that Puig has not yet proven himself worthy of playing in an All-Star Game is widely shared by other veteran ballplayers (and one has to wonder what Puig’s Dodger teammates think of all this), then why not let the veterans show us in the All-Star Game itself how inferior Puig truly is? Let Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish or Matt Moore or someone else face him down and attempt to strike him out. After all, isn’t that the whole point of sports in general, and baseball in particular? Let it be settled it between the chalk lines, not the airwaves, Jonathon.