2021 MLB All-Star Game Rundown

(originally written 7/25/21)

THE DERBY

 

In the past, I've never been a big (sponsor) Home Run Derby enthusiast.

For one, the rules seemed to change every couple years or so. Plus, I thought it was sort of ridiculous a guy could hit 30-something homers in one round and still somehow lose in the next (which happened to either Bobby Abreu or Josh Hamilton a few years back, I believe).

 

As much as I love baseball, I found myself with little interest in keeping up with the Derby through the years. If it was on and I had nothing else to watch or do, I'd tune in. But truthfully, I was just as interested in watching the kids play the outfield as I was in the balls flying out of the park.

 

In other words, the (sponsor) Home Run Derby was previously an afterthought for me. 

But this season my interest was piqued. Not by the headliner Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, but by Salvador Perez of the Royals. Perez has plenty of power, but he's not what I would call a serious masher, and usually spots in the (sponsor) Home Run Derby participants are reserved for serious mashers—guys who challenge for the league lead in four-baggers and can hit them 470 feet without much strain. 

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In front of his home fans, Rockies SS Trevor Story defeated Texas OF Joey Gallo 20-19 in Round 1 of the (sponsor) Home Run Derby, but bowed out to Baltimore's Trey Mancini in Round 2 (13-12).

Concerned about screwing up their swing, more and more "mashers" have bowed out of the Derby in recent years, however, allowing Perez to sidle on up next to the likes of the Mets' Pete Alonso, Texas's Joey Gallo, Washington's Juan Soto, etc.

Perez, the #4 seed who's nearing 200 career home runs, wound up holding his own in the Derby and then some, blasting 28 in the first round—not enough to advance past Alonso (35), but still damn impressive. One of Perez's blasts traveled 491 feet, and according to Royals Twitter, the ninth-ever catcher in the Derby set a new homer record for the position.


Once he reached 20 in the final round, little doubt existed Alonso would walk away a repeat champion—the baseballs were jumping off his bat like golf balls, and pitcher Dave Jauss couldn't have served up fatter offerings if he was rolling them down a chute. A (sponsor) Home Run Derby win for Baltimore's Trey Mancini would have made a terrific story as he continues to spit in cancer's face...but it wasn't to be this year.


All I have to say is this: when I buy 2021 Topps Update, Alonso's (sponsor) Home Run Derby card BETTER NOT BE mysteriously absent from the box as it was in 2019. I didn't report the seller at that time, but I won't be so magnanimous in 2021.


By the way, brilliant move by MLB to assign #44 to all Derby participants in honor of Hammerin' Hank Aaron, watching the power display from up above. The (sponsor) Home Run Derby did not exist in his day, which is the only reason he didn't win it about five times. 


THE ABSENTEES


Recently I checked out the rosters for the 1999 All-Star Game and was blown away to find just three selected players missed the festivities. Of course, Ted frikkin' Williams was there, but that's still an amazing turnout considering the Astros all by themselves had four All-Stars bow out in 2021. OF Michael Brantley and SS Carlos Correa were injured. RP Ryan Pressly's wife was expecting. But 2B Jose Altuve simply didn't want to go. Officially, he was "resting a leg injury", but he'd been playing on said leg leading up to the Break and didn't seem affected.

Wanna lose my respect? Have the fans vote you into an All-Star Game in spite of your tarnished reputation, then don't bother to show up. What, was Altuve's favorite sitcom airing a marathon that night? Get real, dude. I used to dig you. Now you're just another jersey. Cal Ripken played in 18 of the 19 All-Star Games he was voted to, missing one because of legit injury. You, sir, are obviously no Cal Ripken.


I'm not sure I've ever seen an injury replacement get replaced himself, but that's what happened when Cardinals catching legend Yadier Molina, subbing for Giants catching legend Buster Posey, opted to rest his ailing foot. Why am I not hard on Molina as with Altuve? Molina wasn't voted in by the fans, that's why.

 

Posey's SF batterymate Kevin Gausman was one of three pitchers forced by rule to sit because they'd recently started a game; the others were Gerrit Cole of the Yankees and Brandon Woodruff of the Brewers.

 

Injury/potential injury cost viewers the chance to see many of baseball's great superstars; Braves OF Ronald Acuna, Mets SP Jacob deGrom, Angels OF Mike Trout, Dodgers OF Mookie Betts, Indians SP Shane Bieber and Padres SP Yu Darvish joined Posey on the sidelines. Despite those absences, baseball had loads of star power in reserve.

 

THE GAME

 

I am 41 now, in my 31st full year following Major League Baseball. And I can honestly state I've never before appreciated the collection of talent on display at the All-Star Game as I did in 2021. Even without Posey and Acuna and deGrom and Trout and Betts, both sides ran out an impressive lineup of stars both established and rising.

Anytime you're able to ask the likes of Max Scherzer, Manny Machado, Molina, Walker Buehler and Justin Turner to replace other All-Stars, you're faring well as a sport.

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At the 2018 All-Star break, White Sox CL Liam Hendriks was buried in the minors, having been outrighted off Oakland's 40-man roster three weeks prior. In the 2021 All-Star Game, he picked up the save.

I did not actually confirm for myself, as I usually do when presented with an improbable statistic, but reliable sources tallied 42 first-time All-Stars in the 2021 Classic. Now, as Tyler Green so convincingly proved in 1995, an All-Star berth does not guarantee a good career. But if even half of these guys can continue on the path they're on, we're in for some fun times over the next decade or so.

 

The American League triumphed over the National League 5-2, with starter Ohtani picking up the win in a historic two-way performance. He didn't K anyone, but flashed impressive stuff in his 1-2-3 B1st. His NL counterpart, Scherzer, was merely thankful to not exit on a stretcher after Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. buzzed him with a liner. Guerrero, the game's eventual MVP, earned serious points with me by presenting Scherzer with an "I'm sorry" hug afterward.  Pro sports aren't generally known for such deference.

 

Surprisingly, despite the major league muscle populating both lineups in the lively Coors Field, only three combined homers were hit (the NL's J.T. Realmuto and the AL's Guerrero and Mike Zunino), although Guerrero's bomb should have frikkin' counted for two. If there was ever a time for the scalding hot Ohtani to eclipse 500 feet, this was the stage to do it. Alas, the Angels superstar could only manage two groundouts at the plate.

 

In my eyes, the play of the game was made by Ohtani's Angels teammate in the B8th: with the bags full, two out and AL reliever Matt Barnes struggling to maintain a 5-2 lead, Jared Walsh—playing LF for the first time in his major league life—laid out to steal a hit from the NL's Kris Bryant. Two runs would have likely crossed the plate, and the badly struggling RP Aroldis Chapman may have been forced to pitch in a pressure situation.

But in the end, the AL walked away from the All-Star Game victorious for the eighth straight time. Among AL pitchers, only Chapman (Yankees) and Carlos Rodon (White Sox) did not see action. On the NL side, Josh Hader (Brewers) and Buehler (Dodgers) remained on the bench. Glad to see managers Kevin Cash (AL) and Dave Roberts (NL) haven't forgotten the 2002 debacle.

 

THE UNIFORMS, ETC.

 

Some fans took issue with the players wearing one uniform rather than sporting their individual team's look as they'd done since forever. And others simply didn't like the uniforms themselves, even though they did feature each corresponding club's city/state and logo in large letters on the front.

 

I'm not usually one for sweeping change, but I had no complaints at all about the garb. In fact, I think having a standard uniform for MLB All-Stars is long overdue. The sport has given us many issues to fuss over in recent years...including 2021...but this shouldn't be one of them.

(Unless there were players wearing duplicate uniform numbers, which I did not notice.)

 

Slight off-topic: I'd love to contact the misinformed shrew from my former employer who once edited the abbreviation "O's" out of my article, haughtily claiming she'd "never seen anybody use that" before, and show her the All-Star jersey of Orioles OF Cedric Mullins. Yes, I hold grudges.

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This is strictly for the misinformed shrew at that other site I wrote for. O's!!!

How about the legit applause longtime Rockie Nolan Arenado, now with St. Louis, received as he stepped up for the NL in the B1st? That's twice that the Denver contingent showed love for their former star (the Cardinals traveled to Denver in early July), which is twice more than I expected given his messy departure from the Rox. Good for him. And good for them for also showering current Rockies SP German Marquez with love after his scoreless T4th.

 

Perez's "fury" after being accidentally brushed back by Marquez? Priceless. That guy at the very least deserves to join George Brett, Frank White and Dick Howser on Kansas City's wall of retired numbers someday. A few more productive years and he may also get a smattering of Cooperstown consideration. I'm telling you Sal Perez is maybe the most underrated seven-time All-Star around.

 

In closing...If you didn't at least begin to well up when Yankees OF Aaron Judge and Braves 1B Freddie Freeman escorted Aaron's widow Billye onto the field before the game, your name is not Skillz and you did not write this article. Which is now complete.