The argument for Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig making the National League All-Star team dates to Milwaukee in 2002, to a game that ended in controversy and a 7-7 tie.
Bud Selig called it after 11 innings to a chorus of boos and thrown beer bottles, the culmination of both teams running out of substitutes and Commissioner Boob arriving at an unpopular decision.
Bud was all deer-in-the-headlights that All-Star evening.
He has at least been consistent in this manner.
Reaction to the tie was swift. Baseball and its players union agreed that the winner of the All-Star Game would be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series for the next two seasons, a consensus that was then extended and ultimately made permanent.
They changed the rules and, in turn, changed everything for how All-Star teams should be built.
The rosters for this year’s game were announced Saturday and Puig remains on the outside looking in for the game at Citi Field in New York on July 16.
He is among five finalists for one spot that will be decided by a fan vote that runs through Thursday, but you would think after leading all players in write-in votes with more than 840,000, Puig’s chances are far better than those of Dwight Howard receiving a friendly welcome at Staples Center next NBA season.
But the Puig factor is a terrific example of how what was once a game strictly for bragging rights among players and fans should now only be about the best players at a given moment being selected.
It stopped being an exhibition when it began meaning something.
This isn’t your father’s All-Star Game. Sadly, the days of Larry Walker turning his helmet backward and completing his at-bat from the right side of the plate are long gone.
Jonathan Papelbon is one of many who doesn’t get it. The Phillies closer said it would be an “absolute joke” for Puig to make the All-Star team given he has been in the majors for only a month, that players should have to pay their dues before being part of the game, that choosing Puig would be an injustice to veterans who have played for eight, nine, 10 years.
What a crock.
Such archaic thinking should have ceased having a place in the All-Star process once home-field advantage in the World Series began being decided by the outcome. A player’s term of service should have nothing to do with selections, nor should it enter the minds of those voting for starters or reserves.
Perhaps, especially for fans who still view the All-Star Game as an annual celebration of watching their favorite players, no matter how poorly some might be performing at the time.
Consider: Derek Jeter hasn’t played an inning for the Yankees this season and yet was fifth in fan voting for American League shortstops.
The fans also voted Bryce Harper of the Nationals a starter this year, despite the outfielder from Las Vegas missing significant time with a knee injury and not being as deserving to start as a player such as Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates.
There is an easy fix. Fans should be removed from the selection process — ironic, given they now will decide Puig’s fate — as should the rule that each team be represented by at least one player.
I get it. Having a player from each team maximizes All-Star revenue streams. It makes baseball the most money. But once the outcome led directly to a specific league hosting the first two games of the World Series, assuring the Royals or Astros or Padres or Marlins or whoever had a player introduced on All-Star night should no longer have been required.
Best players at the moment?
Puig is hitting .420 with eight home runs, 19 RBIs and a 1.155 on-base percentage since being called up in early June. He has been just as electrifying defensively.
I would propose only managers select the teams, given players annually make as many or more bizarre picks as fans. It’s a drastic change, definitely, but needed in these post-2002 times.
Interleague play ruined the mystery and charm of the All-Star Game, and including the carrot of starting the World Series at home should have erased all other quirky traditions that defined the spectacle.
It’s a different time now, different stakes, different meaning.
Think about it: In the past 10 years, a team that began the World Series at home won the championship seven times.
This stuff matters.
In today’s All-Star Game, Yasiel Puig shouldn’t just be selected.
His inclusion should be unanimous.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.