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INFIELD CHATTER: Forget all-star snubs, celebrate game instead

Hopefully you didn’t come to this space for rantings about players who should’ve been selected to participate in next week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

If anything, the rant is aimed at the ranters — those who make a bunch of needless noise every July about how the system is broken and needs to be changed, that so-and-so deserved a spot and how some young Tigers fan is going to be devastated because a Detroit relief pitcher got tabbed instead of a more deserving hitter.

This isn’t to say all-star festivities aren’t important to young fans. As a child of the 1980s, the Midsummer Classic was a legitimate highlight of each year. I recorded the 1989 game from Anaheim on VHS and watched it repeatedly for years, sometimes lingering over the player introductions, other times going pitch by pitch to hone my scorekeeping skills.

That was the year former President Ronald Reagan was in the NBC broadcast booth with Vin Scully during the first inning when Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs hit back-to-back homers to tie the game at 2-2. It also was the year Mike Schmidt was elected to start at third base but declined, having retired earlier that season.

The next summer Wrigley Field hosted the game, and I was lucky enough to be part of a group with standing-room only tickets. It rained enough I could see animals gathering two-by-two in the parking lot behind our railing, but the entire experience of that night remains one of the foundational moments of my boyhood fandom.

All of which is to say, I absolutely get why the game is a big deal.

My own baseball-crazy boys have been asking me for weeks now when they can watch the home run derby and which Cubs will be on the all-star team. There’s absolutely a lot of good reasons to be excited about next week’s festivities, which is why it’s so frustrating when the loudest conversation seems to be critical instead of focusing on the upside.

Another point of frustration is that the annual barking seems to start even before the rosters are announced — usually complaints about early fan voting returns — and then it intensifies more than a week before the game, when we all know from years of experience that roster modifications are going to be made right up until the day before the game.

Sunday’s announcement of starters and reserve players was the second under the current collective bargaining agreement. After the 2016 season, owners and players agreed to end the experiment of awarding World Series home-field advantage based on the all-star outcome, and also reduced by two the number of guaranteed roster spots for each league, from 34 to 32.

Under the current system, each team will have 20 position players and 12 pitchers heading into Tuesday’s contest in Washington, D.C. Also under this setup, the online fan vote to fill the final spot on each roster, which ends at 3 p.m. today, is open only to position players.

But last year, when the teams in theory would have been limited to 64 total all-stars, there actually were seven extra players. Mike Trout, Dallas Keuchel and Starlin Castro missed the game due to injury, while Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Michael Fulmer and Corey Kluber all started the Sunday prior to the game and had to be replaced with pitchers who could throw on Tuesday night.

The 71 total all-stars actually was the smallest number of the past 10 games, eclipsing the 67 named in 2008. The average over that span is 76.4 all-stars per season, peaking with a whopping 84 in 2011. Only 57 players actually cracked the box score in 2017, which is in line with the 10-year average of 58. The most in that range was 62 in 2014, the fewest was 51 in 2009.

It’s always a bummer when deserving players are overlooked, especially if they never get another shot. But of the players named already there are 25 first-time all-stars, including three starters.

There is a ton of young talent energizing the league and hopefully engaging with fans. Each all-star game is an important event, but none outshines MLB.

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