So the Oakland Athletics have a single All-Star, and it's the portly 40-year-old with no sideburns, a short little arm-stroke and a bit of a PED history.
From a team entering Wednesday with the lowest ERA in the American League, with a more than adequate lineup, and that as of around this time last year has a record of 111-63, the baseball world – fans, players, Jim Leyland, MLB – picked Bartolo Colon and no one else. (He is quite deserving, by the way.)
Now, some folks are quite hysterical over this. The A's have been slighted. They get no respect. It is unjust. No, a tragedy!
To that I say to the A's, their fans and the people who valiantly swab their clubhouses, "Wear it, and wear it proudly."
See, there are few things as establishment as baseball's All-Star Game. The red carpet, the rigid formality, the made-for-TV pretense, a stadium filled with sponsors, it all sounds like something the A's moms would drag them to in their church outfits.
I prefer to think of the A's as anti-establishment. Maybe it goes back to "Moneyball." Maybe even to that early '70's crew. But when the Cactus League general managers convened this spring to meet with reporters, only one of them wore Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, and it wasn't Jack Zduriencik.
The A's play in a ballpark with the ambiance of a train station. They appear to shave two or three times a month, if at all. Their victory dance honors a guy who played a dead guy in the movies, then expertly reprised the role in the sequel. In my observations, the A's laugh harder, celebrate harder, scheme harder, and play as hard as any of the other 29. When I walk through the players' lot after a game, in fact, I'm always a little surprised there aren't 25 choppers out there.
It's impossible not to like these guys, admire them, marvel at their past 12 months. So, should Josh Donaldson be an All-Star? Should Grant Balfour? Jed Lowrie? In an AL Final Vote that stirs the imagination with five setup men, could one or two A's – Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle – gotten a little love?
Sure. Of course. Why not?
On the other hand, these are the overlooked A's, who play in overlooked Oakland, which is where almost no one stays when they play the A's. What you love about the A's is they play around that, through that, and an October in that dank depot of a ballpark is about the coolest baseball experience going.
None of this would work, of course, if the A's weren't talented ballplayers. They've played well, they've won a lot of games, and for that it would be gratifying to be recognized for playing well and winning. It's good for the soul. It's good for the arbitration hearing. And, damn it, they deserve it.
In a somewhat strange and very satisfying way, however, the fan and player votes, the manager and league decisions, they speak exactly to the A's view of themselves. They are underdogs. They spend in a season what the Los Angeles Angels spend in two months. They win in front of tarps. They win while ankle-deep in poop. They have a great time doing it. And they could not care less what this world thinks, because they're having too much fun in theirs.
So, maybe the All-Star Game is like one of those clubs the A's wouldn't join if it would have them as a member. In seven of the past eight seasons, the A's have had the required one All-Star, like they're the goofy kid in the pickup game who has to play, because the goofy kid has the best backyard.
Last year in Kansas City, the A's sent one man – Ryan Cook. He pitched one inning of what was by then a blowout win for the National League. This year, only Colon has been invited, and he is scheduled to pitch Sunday, which means he is unlikely to pitch in the All-Star Game. Yoenis Cespedes will participate in the Home Run Derby, which is nice and all, but not the same as being an All-Star.
Maybe Balfour replaces Colon. Maybe somebody begs out and Donaldson substitutes. Maybe there'll be an injury or two, and there'll be more A's in New York City than people know what to do with.
Personally, I think it's cool no one seems to know anything about these A's, or what to do with them, or how they do what they do. If folks out there do, then they're certainly not voting for them.
The A's should be proud of that. They are who they are. It's an Oakland thing. An A's thing. It's not a tragedy. It's affirmation.
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