PHOENIX -- The Weekend All-Star Buzz, while you were determining whether the incomparable Derek Jeter really might have arrived on this earth via Immaculate Conception. ...
1. You can't spell Phoenix without "nix": OK, serious question here: How many players playing today would you dub true All-Stars?
Would you go for, say, 83?
Because after the comings and goings, adding and subtracting, begging and cajoling, that's how many players have been named All-Stars this summer. But don't hold me to that -- by the time you read this, at the rate things are going, that number may approach 90.
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It's quickly becoming the story here in the desert, the way these All-Stars are nixing their invitations. The growing -- and legitimate -- worry is that this game may have lower wattage than the flickering candles back in the Little House on the Prairie days.
"I'm disappointed by players who would decide not to come to the All-Star Game," Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall said Sunday. "Especially those who were voted in by fans.
"It's something, as an industry, that we need to find a solution for."
As the host team, and as a franchise that has spent the better part of two years building toward these three days, the Diamondbacks are taken aback. Wouldn't you know it: Just as talk of boycotting the game because of Arizona's immigration laws dissolved, players began finding other avenues out of town.
Not that one is related to the other.
Between injuries (Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols), starting pitchers working on Sunday (Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia) and players just plain pooped from chasing milestones and recovering from calf injuries (Jeter), the most notable thing about this year's All-Star Game is who won't be playing.
"It's understandable," said Pat Courtney, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for public relations. "Look, when you're staging that game in the middle of the season, you have to take a variety of factors into account.
"With the injuries we've had this year, along with the starting pitchers who are pitching on Sunday ... once in awhile, this happens. It's just one of those years where there is a larger number of these situations than usual."
|Atlanta rookie Craig Kimbrel is the 83rd All-Star to be named -- which breaks last year's record of 82. (Getty Images)|
"I think, overall, guys are still excited to play in the All-Star Game," said Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Players Association. "It's just that there are particular circumstances to each player."
Most of the injuries appear to be legit. Even A-Rod's: While most people look for excuses to pounce on him for anything, he's set to have knee surgery and he's expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks. Atlanta's Jones, same thing.
Most noticeable for his absence is Jeter. Because after Saturday's sensational day, people are wondering: How can a guy who went 5 for 5 on Saturday be too injured to show up and play three innings in an All-Star Game?
"No one can seriously question Derek Jeter's commitment to promoting the game and to the All-Star Game," Weiner said flatly.
Though Jeter would have made a whole lot of people here happy had he flown in, it's hard to disagree with Weiner. Jeter is a 12-time All-Star, he was the poster boy and made several extra public appearances when the game was in Yankee Stadium in 2008, and he's played in every World Baseball Classic.
"It's always yes, whenever we ask," Courtney said. "He's been unbelievable."
It's hard to fault Jeter this summer also because he spent two weeks on the disabled list with that calf injury. And he desperately wanted to get his 3,000th hit in New York. And as such, including his two injury-rehab games, had he not gotten the hit on Saturday, he would have played nine consecutive days through Sunday's game.
"There are certain players who are obvious who our fans and fans of baseball would love to see," Arizona's Hall said. "I understand the injuries. That certainly makes sense. But players who were voted in by fans, fan favorites ... I'd love to see them here playing.
"But there are so many stars in the game, it's not difficult to sub in and out. ... I'm excited for the players who did come. I think they could be part of what will be the best All-Star Game yet."
As one wag noted, with all of the comings and goings this weekend, it's more preposterous than the NFL's Pro Bowl Game. Hard to argue.
The Chosen One and the Futures: On the weekend the Angels summoned uber-prospect Mike Trout to the majors at 19, Washington phenom Bryce Harper stepped onto the big stage for the first time in the Futures Game. His debut was inauspicious -- he was 0 for 4, getting called out on strikes, bouncing to first, grounding to first and then fanning on a 98 mph fastball. But it was hard not to wonder if Harper, still 18, will be in Trout's position a year from now.
Of the 25 players on the Team USA roster at last year's Futures Game in Anaheim, Calif., 16 already have made their major-league debuts. Trout included.
"I never think about that," Harper said when asked about following Trout's rapid path to the majors. "I'm happy he got called up."
Wearing Dr. Dre headphones plugged into his iPod, Harper might be the most world-weary 18-year-old you've ever met. He's so managed in interviews, clearly been so coached, that it's difficult to get a real read on him.
The most revealing thing he said here Sunday came when he addressed a question about how difficult it is to play every day as a professional for the first time in his life.
"Physically, no; mentally, yes," he said. "You wake up in the morning and sometimes you don't want to go play."
But, he noted, he was in a "great clubhouse" at Class A Hagerstown, and presumably he'll be in the same situation now that he's been promoted to Double-A Harrisburg. Harper crushed Eastern League pitching at Hagerstown, batting .318 with a .423 on-base percentage, 14 homers, 46 RBI and 19 steals in 72 games.
Trout, who was recalled when Peter Bourjos was injured, is batting .111 after three games for the Angels. Other USA team members from last year's Futures Game to debut this year: Baltimore's Zach Britton, Houston's Jordan Lyles, Los Angeles' Dee Gordon, Kansas City's Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall.
3. Jeter's 3,000th: Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Or, as ex-teammate Bernie Williams said, Jeter "did not limp into the 3,000-hit club, but absolutely blew the doors off of it."
4. Big Papi brawls, apologizes: If he was truly sorry, he would have invited Kevin Gregg onto the AL Home Run Derby team.
5. Orioles off the cliff: Baltimore's pitching is in shambles and it's season is there, too. The O's had to return Zach Britton to the minors after he surrendered eight first-inning runs to Boston on Friday and became only the third O's pitcher to serve up at least eight runs without escaping the first inning since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954. Congratulations, Zach, you join Hayden Penn (2006) and Victor Zambrano (2007). Things were so bad Alfredo Simon started Saturday for Buck Showalter.
6. Albert Pujols' wrist is healed: How do we know? He smashed a homer Saturday night. Any questions?
7. What's up in the Seattle dugout? Paging manager Eric Wedge: Hello, anybody awake in there? For the second time in a week, an opponent reached first base on a three-ball walk. The Angels' Bobby Abreu did it Sunday, San Diego's Cameron Maybin did it last week (and scored the only run in a 1-0 Mariners loss). Yes, the umpires screwed up. But come on, you can't tell me if Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia or any number of other managers was in the dugout, that would have gotten by them.
8. The Padres stink. No, they REALLY stink: Friday night, they lost 1-0 to the Dodgers despite loading the bases with NOBODY out in the ninth. Saturday, they lost 1-0 despite tag-teaming a no-hitter for 8 2/3 innings. Over/under on when general manager Jed Hoyer begins trading (Heath Bell, Ryan Ludwick, Chad Qualls): Next week.
9. Ryan Dempster yells at Cubs manager Mike Quade: Biggest story there is, the Cubs actually have emotion left?
10. Reds hold team meeting: Happened Saturday, after six losses in eight games, before playing Milwaukee. And they lost another three games in the NL Central while they were meeting.