By the sounds of things, Adam Wainwright started out telling the truth before covering it up by lying or twisting the facts. That alone tells you something was backward during the All-Star Game. After all, people often lie first and then come clean with the truth.
Wainwright was the one of the best pitchers in the National League over the first half of the season. It’s one reason, but not the only reason, his manager, Mike Matheny, named him the starter. He was rewarding Wainwright with the idea he would help the Cardinals if they reached the World Series.
Along came leadoff hitter Derek Jeter, whom anyone remotely paying attention knew was playing his final All-Star Game in, this, his last season with the Yankees. The All-Star Game wasn’t really a game. It was a party for Derek Jeter, the best leader and one of the best players of his generation.
Thus, the conflict for Wainwright.
Wainwright was showing appreciation for a player he never faced but deeply respected. He clapped for Jeter from the mound when the shortstop stepped into the batters’ box. On his second pitch, he grooved a mid-thigh fastball down the middle, also known as Derek Jeter’s wheelhouse.
Jeter did what Jeter has done for the past 20 years, which was drive the ball into right field for a double. For that people inside Target Field and across America cheered the Yankees legend. Wainwright did his part by giving him something to hit and giving fans what they wanted.
For Wainwright, it was an act of selflessness and class. He didn’t place the ball on a tee on home plate or lob the ball underhanded. He threw a fastball in the 90-mph range. Jeter could have grounded out. He could have flown out. Instead, he did his part by hitting the pitch down the line.
Wainwright wasn’t getting grief for the pitch itself but for admitting he purposely threw one down the tube. At least one person, Wainwright, and possibly another, Jeter, and likely a third, Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and maybe a fourth, Matheny, understood the deal.
Media and fans suspected the same, which was fine so long as Wainwright quietly played along. Basically, a controversy was built by him telling the truth before backing off and saying, essentially, that he didn’t mean what he said, suggesting he was joking and apologizing for becoming a distraction.
Fans, of course, wanted it both ways. They wanted to see Jeter hit the double, and they wanted Wainwright to keep his mouth shut about serving up a fatty. All along, however, they were missing the real issue.
The real issue wasn’t Wainwright grooving a pitch to Jeter. Wainwright wasn’t hoping to surrender Mike Trout’s triple on a 3-2 slider that scored Jeter. He wasn’t trying to give up Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer two batters later or the three earned runs in his only inning on the mound.
No, the real issue is Major League Baseball’s ridiculous reward for winning the All-Star Game. The winner, in this case the American League, has home-field advantage for the World Series. So a game that essentially means nothing can have a huge impact on a game that means everything.
The rule was implemented because baseball’s hierarchy wanted to make the game more competitive before it evolved into beer-league softball or, worse, the NHL All-Star Game. The clincher was the 7-7 tie in 2002, when Commissioner Bud Selig turned the game into a mockery after declaring a tie after 11 innings.
Since 2003, when the change was made, the team with home-field advantage has won the World Series seven times, including five in a row. The last time a home team lost more games than it won in the Fall Classic was 1997. And that’s why it mattered when Wainwright gave up the double to Jeter.
Every year, all-star games in every sport are compromised because … they’re exhibitions. They’re intended to reward players who performed well. They’re a means of taking a breather and celebrating the sport. They’re a form of entertainment for fans who can watch the best players on the same playing surface.
They’re not real. Therefore, they shouldn’t count for anything.
If the idea was to win and help his own team, Matheny would have started Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and kept him in the All-Star Game for seven or eight innings. Kershaw is 11-2 this season with a 1.78 ERA. He had a streak of 41 scoreless innings broken last week. He’s allowed three earned runs since June 2.
Guess who the Dodgers are playing this weekend? Why it’s the Cardinals, of course. A long start from Kershaw in the All-Star Game may have pushed him back in the rotation until next week, or after the series against St. Louis. Matheny did the right thing for baseball. He inserted Kershaw for one inning, which will allow him to start against the Cards on Sunday.
Isn’t that also compromising the integrity of the game?
It’s time for MLB to do the right thing for baseball and dump the incentive for winning the All-Star Game. Home-field advantage for the World Series could be awarded to the team with the best record, with tiebreakers. It could be alternated. They could flip a coin or reward teams with higher attendance.
There is no perfect solution, but almost anything beats the current format. Let’s not kid ourselves, cover up the truth and blame players like Wainwright who should never have been in that position in the first place.