This is a special time of the baseball year, a time for wailing and gnashing of teeth. Who will be an All-Star? OMG, So and So was left off the roster! How did Evan Meek make the team? Etc. The recent trend in midseason navel-gazing is speculating about which rookies will make it (remember Strasburg 2010?). Ken Rosenthal, pivoting off of Tim McCarver, argued that Bryce Harper should play despite missing the first month of the season. And he is absolutely right.
Now as a brief aside, here’s part of what’s stupid about the All-Star Game besides that “it counts”. Harper and Trout will surely limp in just by process of elimination. There are 8 starters chosen per league by fan voting. Then there are backups picked by the players. Then there’s the second chance voting, 1 position per league. Then there are all the players “hurt” or those who claim they are hurt because they want the four days off. Those people need replacements. Tally it up, and there were 84 total “All-Stars” last year, over 10% of players on 25-man rosters. We’ve redefined “star.”
But who are the real stars, the ones you tune in to watch? Typically, they’re the starters. Check out the rosters from last year, and they hold up pretty well. The flukes who probably shouldn’t have been there (see also: Polanco, Placido and his good April) are usually reserves. They just fill out a roster; no one tunes in to see them.
But they’ll tune in for Harper. Wanna sell a baseball magazine right now? Put Harper on the cover. Want to tease a Nationals highlight package? Run footage of Harper on the basepaths. Wanna sell some more copies of the Washington Post? Just throw in a special Bryce Harper poster. He’s a true “star” not just one of the best players in the game. In his column Rosenthal dug into the statistics, and surely enough his rate stats justify his selection as a reserve. Even his cumulative stats are starting to become pretty respectable, despite the late start. But it’s his stardom that indicates he should start. Now he is not technically on the ballot, as he debuted too late in the season. Matt Kemp is on the ballot though; in fact he’s leading all players in the NL. If he’s not back healthy by game-time, Harper could slot right in there.
What pushed me over the edge on Harper as an All-Star was the final game of the Boston series. It’s the purest demonstration yet of the ability he has to take over a game. Without even using his most-heralded tool, his power, he manufactured a run through his sophisticated batting eye and his blinding speed. There’s an excitement he brings to any game he’s in, and that’s a special trait. It has nothing to do with “hype”; people who’ve seen him play day-in and day-out understand that. That excitement is ultimately what makes him a star, however you define it, and it’s why he should start the All-Star Game, probably the first of many.