Around the internet the past few days, I’ve seen many Cubs fans express relief that the All-Star Break is here and how badly the team needs a few days off. At the same time, the Cubs are sending seven players to San Diego for the All-Star festivities this week. Though the majority of the team can get away from the game for four days, seven key players won’t be getting a much-needed break.
Pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, who have been struggling mightily lately and probably could use some rest, will be in San Diego. So will Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, and Dexter Fowler, though the latter will not play in the game due to injury. For a team with World Series aspirations that comes limping into the Break, it’s unfortunate that some of their most important players won’t get that time away.
Last year, as I was watching the All-Star Selection Show, the always outspoken John Kruk, former Phillies first baseman, said that he didn’t like going to the All-Star Game and that he would have rather had the time off. There may be more players who feel the same way, since this is the only time of the season that they get more than one day off at a time. At least for now, most players still say all the right things and express happiness for the chance to play in the Midsummer Classic.
The same can’t be said about the Home Run Derby. Despite being among the league leaders in home runs and therefore being logical choices, both Rizzo and Bryant publicly stated that they did not want to participate in the Derby this year. Both were in it last year and both were ousted in the first round. As I was watching, I was actually rooting against them because I was afraid that the longer they lasted, the more that trying to hit home runs could ruin their swing and lead to problems at the plate once the second half begins.
As it was, both players ended up struggling during the first few weeks of the second half. Rizzo’s batting average fell by 19 points in the twelve games after the break and he did not hit a home run in that stretch, while Bryant’s average fell 25 points in the first sixteen games after the break. Meanwhile, last year’s Derby finalists, Todd Frazier and Joc Pederson, both dropped off dramatically in production, both in terms of average and power, during the season’s second half. Coincidence? I don’t know. But it would make a lot of sense.
It’s sad that I felt the need to root against two of my favorite players during one of the biggest baseball events of the season, but that’s what it’s come to. These days, the well being of the team comes ahead of any personal accomplishments, both to fans and to players. The league was able to get eight players to participate in this year’s Home Run Derby, but players around the league have been dropping out of the All-Star Game like flies due to injury concerns. That’s not meant to be a criticism; in fact, I don’t blame them at all. And now, Arrieta says he may sit out the game, though he doesn’t have any known injury concerns.
Even with the ridiculous rule that the league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series, that’s not enough to get players to give it their full effort if they’re afraid of risking their health and therefore their ability to help their team for the rest of the season. And if it’s not that important to the players, then why should we, the fans, care either?
It all makes me wonder whether the day will come when we no longer have All-Star Games in professional sports. I think there’s still enough interest in the actual game that it will at least be around for the foreseeable future, though I’m not as sure about the Home Run Derby. I’ve always liked watching the All-Star Game, but I like seeing the Cubs play deep into October a lot more.
So, while I’m watching this year’s All-Star Game, I’ll be holding my breath while watching Rizzo and Bryant bat or Lester and Arrieta pitch, hoping they don’t get injured or that their preparation for the game doesn’t throw off their routine as the team gets ready for another run at the pennant. I wish I could get excited about watching Cubs players on one of baseball’s biggest stages. But the reality of the game today is that it’s really hard to do so.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.