PITTSBURGH — Guys like me have no particular insight or influence when it comes to Phils’ manager Charlie Manuel and his decision making. Come to think about it, no else really does, either. Charlie is his own man and isn’t afraid to put his ass on the line.
The buck stops with Charlie.
So when discussing the All-Star Game and Manuel’s job as manager for the National League for the second year in a row, there wasn’t much reading between the lines. Charlie said he had a deadline in which to submit his roster and like anyone with a busy life and a job that takes him to place like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, he was probably going to go right up until the last minute.
Actually, that makes sense because choosing an All-Star team isn’t exactly like writing a paper for an anthropology class. History doesn’t change, but baseball statistics are never static. Just when you think you have a handle on what the numbers show about a ballplayer he’ll ground out to end the fourth inning somewhere or some nerd will develop some new metric that revolutionizes everything.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to the numbers and more than anything Charlie will take a look at the more mainstream of them before submitting his selections.
And because we’re like that in the sports writing business, I took the time to come up with a starting nine for both leagues. No, Charlie didn’t ask me to do it and as stated earlier, it’s doubtful this exercise will have any influence. Truth be told, I didn’t even vote in the All-Star balloting.
But because there’s nothing else really going on and no World Cup action to tune in for, here’s my starting nine for the National League:
C — Miguel Olivo, Colorado
Actual pick — Yadier Molina, St. Louis
This was purely a statistical and offensive selection seeing as Olivo leads all National League catchers with 11 homers and 39 RBIs. Truth is I can’t really recall an instance when I saw Olivo play this season and his numbers could be inflated because he’s playing for the Rockies at Coors Field this season instead of for the Kansas City Royals. It’s a lot different when a guy gets to bat behind Jason Giambi instead of Alberto Collaspo.
Brian McCann of Atlanta just might be the best all-around catcher in the league and will be there with Molina and Olivo, though it would be interesting to see if Carlos Ruiz would have been in the mix had he been able to stay healthy.
1B — Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Actual pick: Pujols
I didn’t even bother looking up Pujols’s stats and I haven’t checked his line in a box score all season. Oh sure, Joey Votto from Cincinnati is having a monster first half and Ryan Howard has posted some decent numbers, too. But as long as Pujols is drawing breath on this planet, he’s in the All-Star Game.
In fact, Pujols could be 90 and retired for 20 years and I would write his name in for the All-Star Game. I wouldn’t even care if his UZR was subpar because Pujols is the best hitter we have ever seen.
2B — Martin Prado, Atlanta
Actual pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Going by what I get to see on a regular basis, a guy like Prado deserves some investigation. Did you know that Prado comes from the same hometown (Marcay, Venezuela) as ex-Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu? Or that last season Prado hit three homers with 10 RBIs and a .432 batting average in 15 games against the Phillies?
How about this one… did you know that Prado leads the National League with a .336 batting average and finished first in the player’s balloting for the All-Star Game? It’s true. Prado beat Utley in the player’s vote, 472-276. That’s right, Prado beat Utley like a gong.
Because Utley is out with a torn up thumb until September, Prado will get the starting nod for Big Chuck’s National Leaguers.
3B — Scott Rolen, Cincinnati
Actual pick: David Wright, New York
I have a confession to make and it makes me a little uncomfortable, but here it goes… Scott Rolen is my favorite player. Yes, Pujols is the best hitter I’ve ever seen. Much better than even Rod Carew, George Brett or Tony Gwynn, but if my sons ever are interested in playing baseball seriously, I’ll get a DVD of Rolen, pop it into the machine and show it to my kids.
Then I'd probably say something like, "That, son, is how you play the game."
Because Rolen plays the game exactly the way it should be played and it's not really very subtle, either. For now though, the kids like the big fella. For intance, my oldest likes Ryan Howard because he had a life-sized poster in his room and the Phillies’ first baseman has some flair in the batters’ box with that exaggerated trigger with his bat pushed forward like a sword and, of course, he hits a lot of homers. Kids like big dudes who hit homers. When I was my son's age it was Greg Luzinski that every kid copied. Now it's The Big Piece.
Meanwhile my youngest doesn’t know what the hell a baseball is yet, but he'll learn because he's a lefty. All they both know about baseball is that it often keeps their daddy away from home and that’s not a good thing.
But back to Rolen…
There are no hidden meanings when Rolen plays third base or circles the bases. It’s all effort and power with some finesse sprinkled in around third base with some glove work that even forced Mike Schmidt to admit that Rolen was the best he’d ever seen. There also is no searching for nuance, which somehow makes his game appealing. Rolen really doesn't have any style when he plays and anyone with a sense of fashion will tell you, sometimes no style is style.
If there is something beneath the surface with Rolen it's that he has an iconoclastic quality, if you will. It was something that the folks in Philly didn't get at all, and maybe the only explanation is it's some sort of Indiana thing that is ingrained with dudes from that part of the world as if it’s part of their DNA. Letterman, John Cougar Mellencamp and Larry Bird all seem to have the same kind of qualities as Rolen, and they all come from the same place.
For some reason certain folks from Indiana react to every slight or insult. When he was in playing in Philly, Rolen looked like he played baseball because he wanted revenge for something. It was something to see. Sure, guys with his sensibilities have traits that can be a bit alienating, but whatever.
Do you think everyone likes Letterman, Mellencamp or Bird? Do you think they care?
As far as the 2010 season goes Rolen seems to be on the path for the comeback player of the year. Healthy for the first time in about a half a decade, Rolen won the player’s balloting by 30 votes over David Wright. Plus, with his sixth All-Star appearance, Rolen has the third-most All-Star appearances on the squad behind Pujols and Roy Halladay.
He's old, but at least he has his panache back.
SS — Hanley Ramirez, Florida
Actual pick: Ramirez
There are two things that are peculiar about Ramirez. One is to wonder how he would be discussed if he played in Boston, Philadelphia or New York instead of Miami. If he spent five minutes playing for the Yankees or Mets, folks would probably be talking about Ramirez as if he were the second coming of Honus Wagner. Instead, we get to chalk down Jose Reyes as the most overrated New York player.
The second peculiarity is that most people only know Ramirez as the guy who lollygagged after a ball and then battled with his soon-to-be ex-manager. Of course that has a lot to do with Ramirez playing in Miami instead of an actual sports town, but hey, what are you going to do? Ramirez was voted to start in the All-Star Game for the third time so it appears as if they’ve heard of him somewhere.
OF—Andre Ethier, Los Angeles; Corey Hart, Milwaukee; Josh Willingham, Washington
Actual picks: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee; Ethier; Jason Heyward, Atlanta
My picks are all statistically based because if I was going by what I have seen, Hart would never be there. Has there ever been a player that always ends the season with great statistics, but whenever you get the chance to see him play, he stinks? That’s Corey Hart for me.
Then again I’m probably focusing on Hart because he won the final five Internet balloting two years ago and I was unfamiliar with his body of work aside from the humiliating 3-for-13 he posted in the 2008 NLDS against the Phillies.
Besides, who didn’t love that tune, “Sunglasses at Night” by Canadian pop-rocker Corey Hart back in 1983? Just thinking about it makes me want to break out a key-tar and rock out.
Either way, Corey Hart (but not Corey Hart) is having a solid season. I still haven't seen him play this year and I'm sure if I did he'd go 0-for-4 with a couple of K's and a throwing error, but whatever. His numbers look really good.
P — Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
Actual pick: Jimenez (player vote)
Remember the first time you saw Jimenez pitch? It was probably in September of 2007 at the Bank or maybe even in October of that year in the NLDS. If you’re like me (and why wouldn’t you be?) you probably said aloud, “Holy bleep, what was that pitch?!”
You also probably thought, “I bet that guy is going to be a star if he can put it all together.”
Jimenez’s had what big leaguers like to call, “electric stuff.” He was raw back then, but threw 98 with breaking pitches that hissed and slithered like a snake. He was exciting in a way folks get excited when they discover a really good band that no one else has heard of, but now that everyone has caught up with the proper way of seeing things, you somehow feel justified and self-assured that you know baseball talent when you see it.
Hell, you might even be ready for a gig as a scout so you can go bird-doggin' around looking for the next best thing.
Anyway, Jimenez pitched the clinching Game 3 at Coors Field in the ’07 NLDS and held the Phillies to just three hits in an interesting duel with Jamie Moyer, which was his coming out party. People got a good, first look at him then though it took some time for him to get right here.
Two years after that rookie season, Jimenez won 27 games and showed flashes of brilliance though the rawness was most prevalent. This year, though, it appears as if he’s put it all together. At 14-1 with a 2.27 ERA, Jimenez already has a no-hitter to his credit and should get the starting nod for the National Leaguers.
Interestingly, Halladay finished second in the player balloting behind Jimenez. However, since Manuel will be thinking more about his club than the National Leaguers, don’t expect Halladay to get into the game.
And that's it. There are you're National League All-Stars as defined by me. Get busy debating the merits of Omar Infante or Joey Votto. There's seven days to fight about it until everyone shows up in Anaheim for the big game.