With baseball season's second half now officially underway, a few observations from last week's All-Star festivities:
The Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton is the best individual story the sport has enjoyed in at least a decade (if not since the dawn of the mythical Steroid Era in the late Eighties). A former can't-miss prospect in Tampa Bay's system, Hamilton fell into drug addiction, leaving him out of baseball, and very nearly out of his marriage. Now clean, Hamilton is well on his way to the American League's MVP trophy, pacing the junior circuit in RBIs by a large margin.
Then came last Monday's Home Run Derby. In a "house" made famous by the most famous home-run hitter of them all, Hamilton hit 28(!) over the wall in the first round of baseball's version of the NBA's slam-dunk contest. You have to believe it was the kind of exhibition -- literally -- in which the athlete is proclaiming, "Look at me, ma. I can do it!" (The format of the Derby must be changed, though. Why even declare a "winner"? To suggest Justin Morneau won anything that night -- other than perhaps a gawking contest during Hamilton's display -- is to diminish the spectacle.)
The Memphis Redbirds were well represented, with four All-Stars having suited up in the Bluff City: Boston's J.D. Drew, Arizona's Dan Haren, and Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick of the St. Louis Cardinals. From the standpoint of Cardinal Nation, seeing Drew in a Red Sox uniform isn't all that troublesome (his trade to Atlanta after the 2003 season brought the Cardinals Adam Wainwright), but the sight of Haren in a D'backs lid? Coming merely days after Mark Mulder -- the lefty for whom Haren was traded before the 2005 campaign -- walked off a big-league mound (arm in tatters) for perhaps the last time, Haren appears to be the worst trade decision St. Louis has made since Steve Carlton was sent to Philadelphia for Rick Wise almost 40 years ago.
Drew became the third member of the 1999 Memphis Redbirds to earn MVP honors on a big-league stage. Adam Kennedy was MVP of the 2002 American League Championship Series. Placido Polanco earned the same award in 2006. And now Drew has the 2008 All-Star Game MVP hardware for his trophy case.
The Florida Marlins' Dan Uggla -- a former star at the University of Memphis -- took his share of heat from the local and national media after a positively dreadful showing in the All-Star Game. The second baseman hit into a double play, struck out three times, and made three errors in his All-Star debut (Uggla was selected in 2006, but didn't play). For the critics who made fun of everything from Uggla's name to his swing, I'd offer this: a bad day in baseball's All-Star Game beats a good day anywhere -- anywhere -- else.
The most uncomfortable man in America at midnight last Tuesday was baseball commissioner Bud Selig. With the game moving into extra innings, anyone still awake had flashbacks to the fiasco of 2002 when Selig declared the game a tie once each club had run out of pitchers. I have two thoughts on eliminating such discomfort for future All-Star Games:
1) If the game is tied after nine innings, why not decide the outcome with a meaningful Home Run Derby? Each manager selects five players, who get a single swing each (from the opposing league's batting-practice pitcher). Most dingers wins.
2) For this to be made a reality, MLB must do away with the game deciding home-field advantage for the World Series. A ludicrous notion to begin with, the concept has made a mockery of the American and National League's historical equality. (The last NL team to host Game 1 of the Fall Classic was Arizona seven years ago.)
I've read reports suggesting the Cardinals are now considering Colby Rasmus among their trade assets as the team searches for a dose of offensive support (the Pirates' Jason Bay tops their list of pursuits, apparently). Such a move would be counter to the franchise's relatively new mission of developing talent (read: saving money) while merely filling gaps with affordable free agents and trades.
Rasmus is just shy of his 22nd birthday. He offers power, speed, and defensive strength at a premium position (centerfield). If I were in St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak's shoes, I'd deal Rasmus solely for a young, power-hitting middle infielder. And Hanley Ramirez appears to be in a Florida uniform for good.