McGrath: All-Star Game could use dash of Fernando Rodney to shake it up

Staff writerJuly 6, 2014 

Mariners White Sox Baseball

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Fernando Rodney celebrates after the Mariners defeated the Chicago White Sox 3-2 in a baseball game in Chicago on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

NAM Y. HUH — The Associated Press

Sometime over the past 50 years, I lost my ability to become outraged about All-Star worthy players who got snubbed by the selection process.

It was a big deal when I kept baseball cards in shoe boxes and collected autographs for a scrapbook. When I stopped buying baseball cards and collecting autographs, my appetite for working up sincere emotions about those denied an All-Star roster spot waned to the point I couldn’t care less.

But I was hoping Seattle Mariners closer Fernando Rodney would anchor the American League bullpen a week from Tuesday. I was hoping this not so much because I’m a Rodney fan but, rather, because I’m a baseball fan saddened by the deteriorating luster of the All-Star Game.

Television ratings last year were less than one-third of what they were in 1976, when 36.3-million viewers tuned in to watch flamboyant Detroit Tigers rookie pitcher Mark Fidrych start for the A.L. I remember friends buzzing, the following day, about the crazy kid who talked to the ball.

People watched, and more than that, they cared. Baseball had the summer stage pretty much to itself in those days: The NFL wasn’t a 12-month operation, there was no such thing as NBA free agency, and soccer was something the foreign-exchange students in the dorm kicked around after class.

Baseball still ruled, and the Midsummer Classic was must-see. It’s easy to romanticize those days, and easy to forget the game itself was usually a bit of a bore. (The record-breaking audience fascinated by Fidrych’s antics ended up yawning through a 7-1 N.L. victory.)

Because each team is allocated 13 pitchers, most of whom see action in single-inning increments, All-Star Games rarely resemble authentic baseball games. The fun, for me, is in the pregame fanfare. (Ted Williams’ introduction at Boston’s Fenway Park in 1999, when he was accompanied by fellow members of the All-Century team, remains one of my favorite sports memories.)

But there’s always the chance something goofy might happen, such as when pitcher Randy Johnson, then with the Mariners, sailed a ball over the head of the Phillies’ John Kruk in 1993.

Which brings us back to Rodney, master of the five-up, three-down ninth inning. To hear a broadcaster note “Rodney is warming up in the bullpen” has the frightening sound of the horn that used to rouse Cold War era schoolkids for an air-raid drill.

And then the real drama ensues when Rodney, his cap tilted to the side, throws his final warm-up toss.

It’s terrific theater, Exhibit A on how baseball, for all its pace-of-game problems can be the most spellbinding of all sports. When the Rodney Experience concludes with a save — he’s got a league-leading 25 of them, in 27 chances — he extends the show a few seconds longer by pulling back on an imaginary bow to launch an imaginary arrow.

Because the A.L. is the home team for this season’s All-Star Game, Rodney would have been in position to do his tightrope-walking, archer-mimicking thing in the top of the ninth.

But assembling an All-Star roster, while abiding by All-Star rules that require each team be represented by at least one player, is a tougher task than it looks. Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell, manager of the A.L., didn’t exercise East Coast bias in overlooking Rodney.

Farrell exercised sound evaluation. The four relievers chosen over Rodney — the A’s Sean Doolittle, the Royals’ Greg Holland, the Twins’ Glen Perkins and the Yankees’ Dellin Betances — boast numbers that are superior to Rodney’s with only one exception: total saves.

Along with Rodney, Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager also was denied an All-Star invitation Sunday. The choice to back up starting third baseman Josh Donaldson, of the A’s, went to the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre. The former Mariner is hitting .335, and I presume you’re familiar with his defense.

Overall, the selection process was no more hostile to the Mariners than it was, for instance, to the Tigers, whose snubs included second baseman Ian Kinsler and starting pitcher Rick Porcello.

Seattle fans will have to be content with watching Robinson Cano, winner of the public vote, starting at second and Felix Hernandez starting as A.L. pitcher. If Farrell has other ideas about giving the ball to King Felix, the notion of East Coast bias will have to be reexamined.

For now?

Two Mariners are in the All-Star Game, and two others, almost as deserving, are out. The world will continue in orbit, life will more or less go on, and a week from Wednesday, nobody will be buzzing about the Mariners’ closer who entered the game in the top of the ninth and gave up a bloop single and a walk and hit a batter before escaping the jam with a strikeout.

Too bad.

The All-Star Game is desperate for an eccentric character to break up the late-inning snoozing. It is desperate for Fernando Rodney.

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