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All-Star game needs to align with Stephen Strasburg

Others argue about fairness and earning the right, but the 21-year-old pitching phenom from the Washington Nationals has the 'wow' factor to help the game and baseball. He is the new Tiger Woods.

July 03, 2010|Bill Plaschke

It's not a Most Valuable Player game. It's not a Best Statistical Player game.

This hootenanny in Anaheim next week, it's an All-Star game, which means the only requirement is that participants are stars.

Stephen Strasburg: Bill Plaschke's July 4 Sports column suggesting that the Washington Nationals' rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg should be named to the All-Star team said no American League hitter has ever seen him. Strasburg has faced three AL teams this season and has a 1-1 record with one no-decision in those games: the Cleveland Indians (a 9-4 win), the Chicago White Sox (no decision) and the Kansas City Royals (a 1-0 loss). —

Whose appearance will make you stop, drop and stare? Who will make you shout to a neighbor or phone a friend? Of all the hundreds of baseball players who have paraded across the landscape this season, who will drawn the most stares under the brightest of lights? Forget the studs, who are the stars?

For me, this year there is one.

His name is Stephen Strasburg, and if he is not on the National League All-Star team being announced Sunday, then baseball just ruined its second perfect game of the season.

He is 6 feet 4, 220 pounds of gnarly, goateed drama. He is fresh, fun and darn near unfathomable.

I don't care that the Washington Nationals pitcher has been in the big leagues only since June 5, making him the most inexperienced All-Star ever. I don't care that he's only made six starts, giving him the shortest resume of any All-Star ever.

I care about wow. Nobody has created more of a major league wow this season, the 21-year-old kid striking out 53 and walking 10 with a 2.45 earned-run average.

I care about wham. His first start June 8 against Pittsburgh, with the sports world watching as he carried the weight of being the No. 1 overall draft pick with a $15.1-million bonus, he struck out 14 and walked none.

I care about wicked. In his third start, he struck out 10 and walked none. In his fourth start, he struck out nine and walked none.

I care about whoa. The inspiration for this column came when I stopped in my living room Saturday afternoon and found myself tuning to a completely ordinary televised game between the Nationals and New York Mets. I was watching for the same reason that I once watched Saturday golf tournaments from obscure wooded courses. I was watching, and a national audience was watching, because Stephen Strasburg is the new Tiger Woods.

None of his first five pitches were under 99 mph. In the first inning, he froze David Wright with an 84-mph curve that plummeted through the strike zone, then struck him out with a 98-mph fastball that moved about five directions.

I couldn't take my eyes off the kid. The Nationals didn't score for him again — they have scored one run for him in his last four starts — so he occasionally tried too hard, giving up two runs and four hits in five innings. But he was a presence, and the game was an event, and baseball needs both of those to prop up a Midsummer Classic that even the spoils of home-field advantage in the World Series haven't much helped.

Interleague play has taken away the All-Star game's intrigue. Television packages that can show every game in every market have taken away the All-Star game's surprise.

For one night, Strasburg could bring all that back. He doesn't lead the league in wins — he has only two — but he will lead the game in camera flashes. He will lead the game in buzz. Whether he strikes someone out or gives up a bomb, he will lead the game in moments.

In an online debate, the Tribune Co. polled four baseball writers about the possibility of Strasburg playing in the All-Star game. Not surprisingly, three of them disagreed with me.

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "It would be fun for everyone if he were there, but fair is fair."

Fair to whom? Maybe it's not fair to the players, but it's not their game. So maybe San Diego's Clayton Richard or St. Louis's Jaime Garcia are left off the team to make room for Strasburg. No offense to those emerging talents, but so what?

Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant also disagreed with putting Strasburg on the team, writing, "To do so would make the All-Star [game] a pure publicity stunt, which is not what its creators had in mind in 1933."

Um, the original All-Star game was nothing but a publicity stunt, an event created by Arch Ward to be a one-time part of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. It wasn't so much a game as a carnival ride.

Pick Strasburg to the team, and it becomes one again.

There are several ways for Strasburg to make the squad, but it shouldn't be that hard. Charlie Manuel of the Philadelphia Phillies, the All-Star game manager, should just pick him as one of his 13 pitchers. And just in case Manuel isn't certain, Commissioner Bud Selig should order it.

Then, can you imagine? Sixth inning, Strasburg on the mound, no American League hitter has ever seen him, the greatest bats in the world fearfully hacking like Little Leaguers, memory after memory.

For once, baseball needs to think outside the good ol' boy network and ignore the seamheads and get this right. It's an All-Star game, and Stephen Strasburg is all star.

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