Random thoughts on baseball’s All-Star week:
• Outfielder Stephen Piscotty will rightfully represent the Redbirds in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, North Carolina. The big rightfielder from Stanford will be manning a major-league outfield soon, but Piscotty’s bright future shouldn’t be connected with his All-Star recognition from the Pacific Coast League.
The Redbirds have had a representative in the Triple-A showcase every season since they arrived in Memphis in 1998. Among those players, precisely four have made what could be considered a lasting impact in the major leagues: Adam Kennedy (a 1999 PCL All-Star), Dan Haren (2004), Fernando Salas (2010), and Michael Wacha (2013). You’d have to be a Redbirds die-hard to even vaguely recall some of the other players on the franchise’s All-Star roster: Les Walrond, Matt Duff, Jason Ryan, Raul Gonzalez, Andy Cavazos, Jess Todd. Longtime Redbirds like John Gall and Nick Stavinoha became PCL All-Stars, but couldn’t stick on a big-league roster.
So congratulations to Stephen Piscotty. And here’s hoping this week’s All-Star festivities become mere footnotes on his baseball resume.
• Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota will mark the eighth in a row to feature at least three former Memphis Redbirds in uniform. (Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina won’t play, having undergone surgery last Friday for torn ligaments in his right hand.) If you need a reason to check the lineups at AutoZone Park, you might start by remembering these 11 names, all former Redbirds and each an All-Star since 2007: Albert Pujols, Dan Haren, Placido Polanco, J.D. Drew (the 2008 ASG MVP), Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Chris Perez, David Freese, Lance Lynn, Allen Craig, and Matt Carpenter.
• The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have many “droughts” in their long, proud history: 19 National League pennants and 11 World Series championships. The club’s living Hall of Famers require a minivan to travel as a group. But for reasons beyond the baseball gods, no Cardinal has homered in the All-Star Game since Reggie Smith went deep in 1974, forty(!) years ago. (The National League won that game, in Pittsburgh.) The next-longest home-run drought for a club in the midsummer classic is merely 33 years. (The last time a Phillie or Pirate went yard was 1981.) It’s not as if St. Louis has sent only slap hitters to the All-Star Game: Ted Simmons, George Hendrick, Jack Clark, Pedro Guerrero, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds. None of these boppers connected in the sport’s biggest one-game showcase. If this is the year to end the drought, it will be Matt Carpenter to do it. I find myself looking ahead to 2015. And counting to 41.
• It’s time we end the silliness of an exhibition game deciding home-field advantage for the World Series. Let’s not allow this to become a “legacy” of retiring commissioner Bud Selig. Too much is at stake. With interleague play now a season-long element of the game, why not give home field to the champion of the league that wins more interleague games? It’s not a perfect solution (you won’t find one), but it’s better than “This time it counts.” It really shouldn’t.
• What do Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, and Buster Posey have in common? First of all, each of these players earned MVP honors in his league since the 2008 season. Secondly, not one of them is a 2014 All-Star. The game of baseball is changing more rapidly than ever, and this becomes most evident at the All-Star Game, where millions of fans will see their first live at-bat by Oakland’s Josh Donaldson or Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion. If you know what makes A’s lefty Sean Doolittle an All-Star, you watch more MLB Network than I do. This is healthy. The days of virtually the same infield starting the All-Star Game every summer — Alomar, Ripken, and Boggs — are gone. Meet Jose Altuve, those of you not following the Houston Astros. He’s a good (if tiny) story.