I guess we could care who has home field advantage in the World Series, but since the All-Star Game began "counting" in 2003, only one Series has gone the full seven games. While there may be some die-hard American League or National League fans out there pulling for their squad to win the glorified exhibition and marketing event, I'd personally encourage those fans to maybe put more effort into a team that plays more often than once a year. I mean, I don't know why anyone would have a vested interest in who wins or loses the game today, unless they convinced themselves the future of the DH rule rests on their respective league's success.
Which is not to say you shouldn't watch. Quite the opposite, actually. Despite the fact that it doesn't count (sorry Bud) and that I'm a cynical quasi-professional writer-guy now, I still have just enough romanticism left in me to be a sucker for the All-Star Game. The introductions, seemingly, are always the best part, as baseball's best players stand shoulder to shoulder wearing their different uniforms as they tip their caps. I grew up during a period where perennial all-stars were a thing, and popular guys like Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, and Tony Gwynn got huge ovations from whatever park they were visiting. I got chills in 1999, as players crowded around Ted Williams and the rest of the all-century team. I felt the same way in 2001, when Cal Ripken hit a bomb in his final All-Star at-bat. Indeed, the All-Star Game has produced some of the most exciting and indelible moments in the game's history.
So rather than dwell on who has the better lineup (the AL), the best pitching staff (the NL, in a squeaker), or the most egregious snubs (the NL, where Yasiel Puig has been cruelly denied to us, the fans), let's instead focus on these teams' potential to provide us with those moments that we'll remember for the rest of our lives, like when Torii Hunter stole a home run from Barry Bonds in 2002, or when Bud Selig and the managers conspired to ruin the All-Star Game just a few short innings later.
The starting pitchers offer the first opportunities to make such an impression. While Max Scherzer is great, and capable of dominating good lineups, he's ultimately got nothing on Matt Harvey. Harvey is clearly one of the three or four most talented pitchers in his league. Of all the American League's starters, just Robinson Cano and Joe Mauer have faced him in a major-league game, and are a combined 1-for-7 with a single and a strikeout. The AL has the better hitters, but Harvey is a pitcher unlike many they've faced in recent years.
According to Jeff Sullivan, "No other starter's fastball has led to so many swinging strikes, as Harvey can just be completely overwhelming. Instead of just using his fastball as a foundation, Harvey uses it also as a weapon, which is a rare gift." Watching Harvey air that fastball out over the course of two innings should be riveting television, like Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn's final appearance in Major League, as he just keeps pumping fastballs past a helpless Clu Heywood. That's even before we get to Harvey's wipe out slider and knee-buckling curve. Anybody wanting to potentially re-live Pedro Martinez's amazing start in 1999, when he fanned Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell in two innings, should tune in early.
After that, sadly, we will wind up seeing a parade of, mostly, one-inning relievers. The AL has eight relievers on its roster, three of whom are actually setup men. The NL is slightly more under control with "only" six relievers. Now I'm not saying you can't have fun watching Grant Balfour or Steve Delabar pitch a baseball, but these guys already max out for one inning a game, so it's not like we'll be seeing anything different. Maybe that's why the All-Star Game is never really as dominated by pitching as I assume it should be. Since 2000, the AL and NL teams have combined to score fewer than six runs just three times.
At least with all that offense we might see some fireworks, and, of the two clubs, the AL is certainly better equipped to provide those. Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown and MVP award last year in the American League, and has been even better this year, hitting .365/.458/.674 with 30 homers so far. Just to put that in context, his 1132 OPS is twice the league average, and if it holds up would be one of the 20 best offensive seasons since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He's as good a bet as anyone to go all Gary Carter in 1981 and hit two homers.
His rival, and the rightful MVP last year, Mike Trout, is also in the lineup, hitting .322/.399/.565 with 15 homers and 21 stolen bases this year, after hitting .326/.399/.564 in 2012, and could provide the kind of start to the game that Bo Jackson did in 1989 when he took Rick Reuschel deep on the first pitch of the game.
The American League also boasts the hottest hitter in baseball, Chris Davis, who has charged uncontested through the league since mid-August of last year. He leads baseball with 37 home runs, and is chasing Maris, Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds, has hit .315/.392/.717, and comes into the break with a bomb in each of his last four games. Or there's Prince Fielder, who could, like Reggie Jackson hitting a power transformer on the roof of Tiger Stadium in 1971, come off the bench to absolutely destroy a baseball, like he did last night in the Home Run Derby.
This is not to disparage the National League offerings. Joey Votto, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez, and the rest are fine players, but the transcendent talent in the AL lineup will prove difficult to match, except perhaps for Bryce Harper, who has hit "only" .264/.371/.522 and is batting ninth, but who, from a sheer talent perspective, may be the most dynamic offensive player in the NL lineup. Like Davis and Fielder, he similarly has "transformer" power.
Or, if the offense doesn't come through, maybe the defense will. Some of the greatest fielders in the game will be on the field tonight. Carlos Gomez could rob a home run like Torii Hunter, or Manny Machado could go down the line like Brooks Robinson. Before remaking himself into a dynamic offensive player, Yadier Molina boasted the strongest arm in baseball from behind the plate. Mike Trout had one of the best defensive seasons of all time last year in centerfield for the Angels, and he'll be in left tonight.
Plus, you can't expect Dustin Pedroia to play in a game and not get his uniform dirty diving for something.
Some of the other great All-Star moments are the kinds of ridiculousness that happens in baseball that you simply can't plan for. Randy Johnson playing with John Kruk's head (which was, and still is, presumably not very difficult) in 1993 or Larry Walker batting right handed in 1997. Maybe it's Barry Bonds giving Torii Hunter a bear hug. Maybe Brett Cecil's glasses will fall off mid-pitch and he'll accidentally step on them. Or maybe Dustin Pedroia will put on an actual laser show. If Edwin Encarnacion actually gets on the field, maybe we'll see a ball go through his legs.
God willing, we will get to the ninth inning with the American League ahead by some slim margin, because the greatest opportunity for one of those defining moments is personified in retiring Yankees legend Mariano Rivera. Already the career saves leader in baseball history, Rivera is on his farewell tour, during which he's been canonized by teams around the league, and showered with gifts. Frankly, everyone loves Mo so much that all the attention seems entirely appropriate -- tt feels incredibly weird not to feel cynical about that. Anyway, one of the stops along Rivera's journey should be his fifth save in the All-Star Game, as he saws off bats with his signature cutter and quietly makes baseball's best hitters look ridiculous.
To see Mariano Rivera surrounded by his teammates, shaking hands, and waving to his (sort-of) hometown crowd is the kind of signature image we should all be rooting for in this game. The kind of moment that will stick with us, even as the snubs, flubs, homers and even the final score fade into obscurity. Certainly we can remember that. If we're lucky enough to see it, the game will have been a classic.