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The Best All-Stars Are The “We Had To Pick A Guy” All-Stars

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 09: Jorge Lopez #48 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates a win after a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 9, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Ed. note: All Ray Ratto blogs are by definition Rays Week blogs.


Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is now an acknowledgement that you are expected—well begged, really—not only to watch but to watch Shohei Ohtani. ESPN will worship him as a god, to the point where you will learn to hate him for that very reason. The broadcast will softpedal the fact that he is sentenced to push a concrete armoire up an oily hill made entirely of rusty razor blades, which is to say play for the Los Angeles Angels of Hell, but otherwise you will learn to grow sick of Ohtani just for the overoveroveroveroveroverkill.

And when the broadcast gets tired of Ohtani, it will ram Aaron Judge down your face because even the bags of savaged DNA known as TV producers have a sense that you may not want to add any more overs to overoveroveroveroveroverkill.

Well, that’s the wrong way to do it. What Ohtani and Judge are doing glow all the brighter within the context of the regular season. Judge is slaughtering baseballs and pitchers’ reputations as though Yankee Stadium were just a rezoned abattoir as the Yankees murder the American League, and Ohtani is making people endure the Angels in ways that they would not engage with their malformed brethren the Sacramento Kings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Sabres, and Norwich City.

But Judge and Ohtani have been all-stars before, and will be all-stars again. The best all-stars are the ones least likely to get in the game at all, because they are the rarest of athletes: the ones who genuinely are “just happy to be there” because they wouldn’t have been there under any other circumstances. They may not play, and Lord knows nobody is clamoring for them to do so, especially not their own managers or general managers. ESPN will spend only as much time mentioning them as the pregame introductions will allow, and they will be little noted nor at all remembered.

Except by Comrade Roth, who holds all Guys as memorable, and by you if you understand the true mutant beauty of baseball’s All-Star Game. The requirement that every team should have one all-star has always been considered a moral and ethical outrage by people who spend way too much time worrying about the Austin Rileys of the world. Those people are wrong to the point of needing jail time. It’s a great idea because it makes assembling a team a little harder and a little more fun. You know who the starters are; the reserves are where the hilarity is.

Truth is, All-Star Games are about getting named to the team rather than actually playing in the game. You get a bonus for being named whether you play or not—otherwise, the Pro Bowl is just an OTA with better weather.

So here’s to David Bednar of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who has had an excellent year closing for a team that doesn’t close much. And Joe Mantiply, who does something for the Arizona Diamondbacks. And Luis Castillo, and Martin Perez, and Paul Blackburn, and Andrew Benintendi, and Jorge Lopez, who might have made the team on their own merits but mostly got on because the Reds needed to have a guy and so did the Rangers and A’s and Royals and Orioles.

There are others, of course, like C.J. Cron (Rockies) and Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) and Juan Soto (Nationals) and Sandy Alcantara (Marlins) and Shane McClanahan (RAYS!) and Corbin Burnes (Brewers), but they would have made the team anyway—Rodriguez especially. He’s exactly what All-Star Games are about: new young guys making their bones.

But the guys who are way down on the managers’ must-play lists are the ones who get the best thrills out of it—for them, it’s Christmas in July. We want Bednar to face one hitter—maybe Ohtani. In fact, we want one inning in which all those guys play against each other, because why the hell not? It doesn’t ruin your day, and it makes theirs. I mean, you can see Shohei Ohtani every day of the entire season, so that nonsense about him being buried in Anaheim is ridiculous. Just buy the MLB package, or lift it from some unsuspecting turniphead, or whatever you need to do. You’ll get Ohtani until your eyelids fall into your soup.

Me, I’ll take Blackburn-Cron or Mantiply-Benintendi any old time, They’ll probably be laughing too hard to see the ball clearly, and if they dare take it seriously they should be banned from all subsequent summer classics. We live in hope that they will understand their place in the universe and get in the spirit of the thing. They got tongue-kissed by the luck fairies and they’re going to L.A. for three days on someone else’s arm. They shouldn’t ruin it by trying too hard. But getting in the game isn’t too much to ask, even for Gregory Soto. He’ll be thrilled. They all will. Besides, you’ll get Ohtani back the following Friday, and he’ll play Austin Riley to boot. Happy now, reptiles?