In 1971 I got to see Sandy Koufax pitch. Duke Snider played center field, Pee Wee Reese played shortstop and Gil Hodges played first. It was the first Old-Timers’ Game ever at Dodger Stadium and the four-inning contest meant nothing except to the heart of a 9-year-old boy, me, who took it all in before the real game, in which the Dodgers beat the Mets, 4-3. I still recall the last play. The Mets were threatening. Jerry Grote hit a one-out, bases-loaded line drive to Steve Garvey at third. Garvey caught it and doubled up Ken Singleton at third. Game over.
What I remembered most, though, was I saw Koufax pitch.
I wasn’t old enough to remember seeing Koufax pitch in the real games. I was 4 when he retired. That the game I saw him pitch in didn’t count for anything did not matter much to me then, because the Dodgers provided the best entertainment possible in a display that let people who did remember Koufax reminisce and those of us who didn’t catch some of what we missed. Sports are meant to be won, but when we plunk down money for tickets we’d like to see a show, too.
So I will readily admit that Yasiel Puig does not deserve to be in the All-Star game, but he belongs there. A true All-Star Game should be made up of players who can arguably be called the best in each league and. Puig, because he’s only been in the majors a month, can’t really make that case.
Neither could Willie Mays argue in his final years that he deserved to participate in the All-Star Game. He was there because fans wanted to see him there. Mays belonged there, even if he no longer deserved it.
Jonathan Pabelbon said if Puig gets in it will be an “absolute joke.” Ben Shapiro writes that however tactless Pabelbon was, he was right. Shapiro makes the same argument I would make about Puig not being deserving of the All-Star bid.
But because each team has to have at least one player on the All-Star roster, it’s not like the best 34 players in each league are on the field anyway. It’s the concession Major League Baseball makes to get fans of all 30 teams watching the game. Puig, even if he doesn’t deserve the honor, wouldn’t be the only one on the field who didn’t.
I’m ready to admit that the only reason I think Puig belongs on the All-Star roster is because I want to see him there. I’m a fan. I think that’s enough reason. If Puig gets in, it’s because he’s a wonder. He’s exciting. Watch what happens when he bats. No one looks the other way. When he gets on base look what he does to pitchers. If he gets in it will be a fan voting surge that makes it happen, and it will show that fans want to see him in a game that, despite its World Series home-field advantage factor, is mostly about keeping us interested in baseball at all.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is a marketing piece for the league. It’s an exhibition. Make your case that he hasn’t earned his place there yet, but I can’t see leaving out the guy who is the most intriguing player in the league right now.