By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
The Midsummer Classic, baseball’s All-Star game, takes place on Tuesday and to help out you non-baseball fans, here are some cool things to keep in mind as you watch. I’ve tried to frame the game in ways that I hope will make it easier for non-fans to understand.
Centerfielders Abound Just Like The Simpsons Episodes!
In the third season of The Simpsons (a season that I love for my favorite Halloween episode “Treehouse of Horror: II” because the frogurt is cursed) they had a baseball crossover episode called “Homer at the Bat” that starred the biggest baseball stars of the age, including Ozzie Smith, Mike Scioscia, Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco and Darryl Strawberry. At the end of the episode, you hear a revised version of “Talkin’ Baseball” by Terry Cashman called “Talkin’ Softball.” The new version replaced the signature “Willie, Mickey and the Duke,” with “Homer, Ozzie and the Straw.” The original song commemorates the city of New York and the three great centerfielders that played there at the time, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. Today, a couple of new centerfielders, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, have drawn comparisons to these celebrated players of the past. Add to them the great defensive centerfielder for the Braves, Michael Bourn, and you have a new part to the song, “Michael, Harper and the Trout.” As the linked articles say, we’ll be seeing these guys for a while, and you’ll be lucky to catch glimpses of them both in their first All-Star Game.
The Fellowship of the Championship Ring
In baseball when you win the World Series, each member of the team now gets a championship ring. To win the World Series, a team must win four games. To get to play four games at home, the league must win the All-Star Game.* So, think of it this way – the players for each team in the All-Star Game are like the league’s Fellowship of the Ring. Nine members of the fellowship, nine players start for a baseball team. They are there to protect the interest of their league in procuring rings in October. Here’s your guide to what person in each league equals each member of the Fellowship.
Frodo Baggins – Mike Napoli, AL; Buster Posey, NL
Frodo was the guy that was modest but really in charge, and that just screams the position of catcher to me. I put catcher Mike Napoli here because he looks like he would have hairy feet and Buster Posey because he has a baby face like Elijah Wood.
Samwise Gamgee – Derek Jeter, AL; Yadier Molina, NL
Samwise had to be the most loyal person in the history of literature. So, for his position, here are two players that have been with the same team for their entire career. Derek Jeter with the Yankees and Yadier Molina with the Cardinals. The fact that Molina also looks like he has hairy feet is just a bonus. Since Molina won’t be at the game due to being on the bereavement list, I think Carlos Ruiz makes a great substitute as he has always been a Phillie and also looks to have hairy feet.
Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took – Elvis Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera AL; Rafael Furcal and Jose Altuve, NL
If hobbits were ever to play baseball, they’d have to be middle infielders, generally the smallest players on the diamond. Jose Altuve, the 5’5” second baseman for the Astros, makes this list as the slightest of all the players. Elvis Andrus joins him because not only is he a middle infielder, he has hobbit power with only 1 home run. Add to them shortstops Asdrubal Cabrera and Rafael Furcal and you got some serious small and quick guys (small being relative as Elvis and Asdrubal both stand 6’0”.)
Gandalf the Grey – Joe Nathan AL; Chipper Jones, NL
When I think grey, I think older, as in, “I keep getting older and keep getting more grey hairs.” So, for Gandalf, look no further than the two oldest players on each team that I didn’t select for another character. Joe Nathan is just a little bit younger than Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones is the oldest player on both teams at the ripe old age of 40.
Aragorn – Robinson Cano, AL; Matt Kemp, NL
I think of Aragorn and I think of a strong leader. So, for Aragorn I choose the Home Run Derby Captains, Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp. If we were just judging it on dreamy guys, because I think all fan girls swoon at the sight of Viggo Mortensen, then I think Matt would still easily make this cut. (He dated Rihanna. Don’t worry, you probably don’t know her because you didn’t see Battleship. Trust me – she’s very pretty.) We’ll give Robinson Cano the benefit of the dreamy doubt as well.
Legolas – Curtis Granderson AL; Andrew McCutchen, NL
I think Legolas, I think lithe. Yes, both Andrew McCutchen and Curtis Granderson can hit a lot of home runs, but watching them cover ground in centerfield harkens back to Legolas running through the woods without getting winded.
Gimli – Prince Fielder, AL; R.A. Dickey, NL
Prince Fielder is an easy choice as he is easily the most bearded guy on the field, and if there is one thing that dwarves can do, it’s grow a beard. R.A. Dickey might not be as bearded as Prince, and since he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, he may be closer to Frodo or Sam climbing Mt. Doom, but I wanted to be sure to include him on a list because he is cool. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you want an NL player with the same physique as Prince and Gimli, the Kung Fu Panda (yes, that is his nickname) Pablo Sandoval is pretty close. If I had to name a fourth dwarf, David Ortiz of the AL would easily make the list.
Boromir – Josh Hamilton, AL; Joey Votto, NL
I think Boromir, I think of a big, strapping, huge guy ready to take on all comers. As far as hitters go, you can’t get much bigger and stronger than Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto. (If you think of Boromir as a traitor, put a little more Sean Bean as Ned Stark in your viewpoint.) Right now, Joey and Josh are 1st and 3rd in wOBA, a stat created by Tom Tango to measure the whole picture of a player’s offensive contribution. What does that mean? They are the first and third best hitters in the game right now.
Now, you can watch the game, look at all these players and see if you agree with me. If nothing else, it will keep your mind occupied in between the action on the field. To make it simpler, just look at the big screen on each player and ask yourself: hobbit, dwarf, elf or man?
*Is it a good rule to have the home team of the World Series determined in this way? Probably not, but I have much bigger complaints in the world and all the griping I hear now should have been as loud for alternating years back in the 80s. Weee! It’s an even numbered year and that means NL home field advantage! Weee! Do I sound bitter for being a fan of the Cardinals who made the World Series in the odd numbered years of 1985 and 1987 when I actually paid attention? Yeeessss!
Pitchers pitching as fast as a Tron Identity Disc
Yes, Tron and Flynn can throw their identity discs with the speed of a starship, but wait until you see what these pitchers can do with a baseball. Because the radar gun in Kansas City is “hot,” the readings will regularly look to be near triple digits, but even if you know that ahead of time and adjust down two miles an hour, you’ll still have plenty of chances to see guys that can throw a baseball at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour. Here’s a list of pitchers and their average fastball velocity, but to simplify it to those on the All-Star roster, here are the All-Stars with their average fastball speed:
Stephen Strasburg – NL – 95.9 mph
David Price – AL – 95.5 mph
Justin Verlander – AL – 94.0 mph
Gio Gonzalez – NL – 93.3 mph
Clayton Kershaw – NL – 93.2 mph
Yu Darvish – AL – 93.0 mph
That’s just the starting pitchers. These relievers can also throw very, very fast:
Craig Kimbrel – NL – 96.8 mph
Joel Hanrahan – NL – 95.9 mph
Fernando Rodney – AL – 95.6 mph
Jim Johnson – AL – 94.3 mph
If you look beyond the speed and just want to see pitches that move in crazy directions, check out R.A. Dickey and his “angry” knuckleball. Yeah, that’s off the point, but I wanted a chance to mention R.A. Dickey again.
Hope that helps non-baseball fans to enjoy the game. Happy viewing!