Baseball is a sport that lionizes it’s legends in ways that other sports don’t. This has a lot to do with the professional baseball having existed since the 19th century and people like Ken Burns who get us thinking about it’s history in gauzy sepia tones.
Players like Aaron, Koufax, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Clemente and many others across the last century plus are icons who current players are often compared to. One natural comparison is Lou Gehrig and now-retired Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. In the season following a player’s strike that cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904, Ripken broke Gehrig’s consecutive game played record in 1995.
Six years later, Ripken who spent most of his career at shortstop before moving to third, announced he would retire at the end of these season. He was elected a starter to the 2001 AL All-Star team at third base. The AL’s starting shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, at the top of the first inning switched spots with Ripken in a tribute to the long-time Oriole.
When Ripken came to the plate in the bottom of the third inning, he launched home run off of Chan Ho Park to give the AL a 1-0 lead. Ripken won that game’s MVP award. Those indelible moments are forever part of Ripken’s legacy. Few remember his last put-out or his last hit, but his performance at the 2001 All-Star Game, much like Ted Williams hitting a home run in the final at-bat of his career, is the fan’s coda to his career.
Last night, at Citi Field, a similarly memorable All-Star Game farewell occurred. The great Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, pitched in his final All-Star Game. Having missed most of last season with a torn ACL suffered while shagging fly balls during batting practice in May 2012, Rivera has been outstanding this year in his 19th season. Rightfully so, he was elected to the American League team.
Coming into the game in the bottom of the 8th inning to the sounds of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera’s AL teammates stayed in the dugout, allowing him his moment of recognition on the mound as the sell-out crowd gave him a standing ovation. Rivera proceeded to do what he has so often done in his career, set down the side in order. Giving up no runs, no hits or walks.
In a game where the American League scored two of it’s three runs on sacrifices and the most any pitcher threw was two innings, choosing an MVP was going to be tough. The award went to Mariano Rivera. He didn’t deserve it.
I said as much on Facebook last night and a few friends asked me, “If not Mo, then who should have been the MVP?”
It’s a good question. The best way to answer it is through a process of elimination.
NL Team – They not only lost but were shutout. The only player who could have merited the award was Matt Harvey. Starting his first All-Start, he threw two innings, hitting one batter, giving up a hit, and striking out three. Nevertheless, his team lost.
AL Batters – If only Prince Fielder scored after laying out for his triple in the ninth inning, he might have garnered the award. However, with no major offensive power performances, the AL batters, despite nine hits, made no claim on the game’s MVP award.
That leaves just the AL pitchers. Three pitchers (Kansas City’s Greg Holland, and Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar from Toronto) threw one-third of an inning apiece. Gone. Same for Felix Hernandez, whose one inning of work with one hit and no strike-outs, Matt Moore who threw one inning, and Oakland’s Grand Balfour who struck out one but also issued a walk, are the odd men out.
That brings us to our finalists – Detroit’s Max Scherzer, Chicago’s Chris Sale, Mariano Rivera, and Texas’ Joe Nathan.
A look at the box score shows that the MVP of the game was Chris Sale. He pitched two perfect innings, struck out two, and earned the win. An argument could be made for Nathan since he picked up the save, but he also gave up a hit. And Scherzer, the game’s starter, only threw one inning.
Basked in the glow of his memorable entrance, Rivera pitched well – one inning and no hits. But it didn’t compare to Sale’s performance. Last night’s MVP decision was the baseball equivalent of giving Martin Scorsese the Oscar for The Aviator since Mo had never been an All-Star Game MVP.