Ellsbury robbed of All-Star selection

Well, then I’m not watching ...

No doubt all correct-thinking baseball fans (especially those within eye-shot of this column) will agree that Jacoby Ellsbury was robbed of a placement on the American League All-Star team.

Via computer, where people can vote about 25 times a day, fans pick the game’s starters. In what has individually been an up and down season (currently up), Ellsbury finished eighth among AL outfield choices. Three Baltimore Oriole outfielders — including one Nate McLouth, no disrespect, Nate — finished ahead of him. Some franchises (like Baltimore) make getting out the vote for their players more of a priority. (See the 1957 Cincinnati Reds the bottom of this column as an example.)

After a strong start, Ellsbury endured a very poor May, when many of the ballots were cast. Plus, the Red Sox aren’t as zealous as other teams in promoting their players and the online voting system. So, no great surprise that he wasn’t selected to start the game by the fans, who have a tendency to vote for their favorite team’s players.

Not getting picked by the fans probably doesn’t rock too many players’ boats. But the coaches and players who voted for the backups? By snubbing Ells, they together picked up an error.

While Ellsbury was left off the roster, these players were selected as reserves: Torii Hunter of Detroit, Nelson Cruz of Texas and Alex Gordon of Kansas City. All good players having good years. But Ellsbury has scored more runs, has more hits, and has a higher on-base percentage than any of these three. Plus, he trails only one of the three in doubles and batting average.

What’s more, he leads the entire Major Leagues in steals and in triples. And there’s the fact that his team, for which he bats lead off, has the best record in the league.

He’s had more at-bats, yet has struck out fewer times, than all of the six men on the roster, and has walked the third most, behind only starters Juan Bautista and Mike Trout.

Apparently, two offensive stats dominated the decision making: home runs and runs batted in. Granted, Ellsbury’s home run power is nowhere to be seen (just two this season) since his shoulder injury early last year. But then, as lead-off hitter, it isn’t Ellsbury’s job on the Sox to smack home runs and drive in runs, per se — it’s to get on base and be driven home.

Back in the ’90s, the heyday of the steroid era, there was a famous (and funny) ad with the enduring catchphrase: “Chicks dig the longball.” Apparently, so do the players and coaches who pick All-Star teams.

It may or may not matter much, but this is a contract year for Ellsbury. Making the All-Star team would be good leverage when seeking a new contract. It’s leverage he’s earned but wasn’t awarded.

If a draft were held today to select the best, most effective outfielders in the American League, possibly the starters on the AL team — Trout, Bautista and Adam Jones — would be taken before Ellsbury, maybe only Trout. But certainly the three outfielders who made the team as reserves would not be.

My take is two major elements kept Ellsbury from being elected by his peers and coaches: that poor three-week stretch in May that saw his average dip to about .240, and the reoccurrence of his career nemesis: injuries. He missed several games with a bad groin in early June, and his durability is a constant, nagging question.

A torrid mid-June through early July (hitting .360), pushing his season average over that magical .300 mark, apparently wasn’t enough to erase the poor stretch in the minds of his peers and the coaches.

Two games after the rosters were announced Saturday, the injury bug bit again. Ellsbury missed the first game of the Seattle series Monday with a wrist sprain. No doubt many of his Northwest fans were in Seattle hoping to watch Ells live, but he didn’t play.

Certainly Ellsbury not getting an All-Star nod is just another drop in the ocean of controversy that has tinged the game over the years.

Each year, until it’s actually played and becomes history, the game seems to be surrounded by more acrimony and controversy over who’s there and not there than for what the game is designed for — to celebrate and further excite fans about Major League baseball. It’s been that way for ages.

In 1957, the Cincinnati Reds fans made it a point to elect their entire team to start the game for the National League. They succeeded. Thanks largely to the Cincinnati Enquirer (yeah, newspapers!!) printing up premarked ballots and putting them in their Sunday edition, Reds were elected to start in seven of eight positions (pitchers were appointed) in the game. St. Louis great Stan Musial, at first base, was the only non-Red to receive enough outside votes to make the team.

Commissioner Ford Frick intervened and named two other pretty decent outfielders — Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — to replace Reds Gus Bell and Wally Post. Then fan voting was banned, until 1969, when was it was reinstated.

So, Ellsbury joins the thousands of players who should have been a season’s all-stars but weren’t. Instead of a hectic few days in New York City for the game, where he’d likely get maybe one at-bat, hopefully Ells can take the time to get more fully healthy and tuned in for a productive stretch run.

As for that contract proposal he’ll see at the end of the year ... Ellsbury just needs to continue hitting over .300, lead the league in steals, and — most importantly — help lead the Sox to the World Series. If so — and if he can stay healthy — that huge contract will be there, regardless of the All-Star snub.




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