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July 17, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Baseball commish strikes (out) again

0PINION — WHAT A surprise. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has screwed up something else.

This time it was in how the participants for Monday’s home run derby were selected.

Of course it should have been no surprise. Back in 2005, Selig decided that selection would be based on eight players representing their home countries rather than their respective leagues. The change was designed to highlight Selig’s first World Baseball Classic, played in March 2006.

The latest mess started three years ago when Major League Baseball (aka Selig) revised the format so that each league had a team captain. In 2011 David Ortiz led the American League, Prince Fielder the National League. Last year, Robinson Cano (AL) and Matt Kemp were captains. This year, it was Cano again and David Wright.

Nobody seems to know how captains are chosen, but instead of inviting the top four home run hitters in each league to be in the contest—obviously too obvious a criterion—Selig decided in 2012 and again this year to allow the two captains to pick whomever they wanted to be in the derby.

The winner of the 2011 derby, Captain Cano did not pick Billy Butler to participate in his home ballpark in Kansas City and was booed every time the name Cano was uttered.

Fielder, last year’s derby winner, was not named captain this year; Cano was. Go figure.

The NL captain Wright infuriated fans in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Arizona for snubbing Pedro Alvarez (24 homers), Domonic Brown (23), and Paul Goldschmidt (21) while picking Bryce Harper (13) and Michael Cuddyer (16). At least Wright originally picked NL homer leader Carlos Gonzalez (25). He dropped out due to injury.

Perhaps the reason Wright chose two questionable “sluggers” was to deflect heat from his own inclusion, considering that he has only the 16th most homers in the NL.

At least Wright had enough backbone to fess up that he picked Cuddyer because they are longtime friends.

While it’s hard to fault Cano for picking Miguel Cabrera, Fielder, and Chris Davis, when Cabrera withdrew due to an injury, Selig, er, I mean MLB announced with a straight face that Yoenis Cespedes would replace the Detroit slugger.

His .225 batting average includes only 28 total extra-base hits, with 15 of them being home runs. He is only fourth in slugging on his own team. And he didn’t even make this year’s All-Star team.  David Ortiz (18) and Jose Bautista (20) are All-Star starters, and Ed Encarnacion (23) and Nelson Cruz (22) are both reserves—all left off the derby list.  And If they wanted a non-All-Star, why not pick Adam Dunn (24)?

That Cespedes won the derby, but didn’t qualify as one of the best 38 AL players named All-Stars lessens the importance of the most popular event of the All-Star festivities.

But then again, I guess we shouldn’t criticize Cano and Wright since they had free reign to pick their derby rosters, using whatever reasons they wanted to make their choices.

Actually, Wright did Alvarez a favor by leaving him off his original roster.

The man Pittsburgh fans love to boo became the cause celebre last weekend, with fans screaming, “Pe-dro” whenever he batted.

Following Sunday’s finale, Mets manager Terry Collins blasted the crowds, who jeered and booed Wright at every opportunity.  

Collins blamed Wright’s 3-for-14 series stats with just one RBI on the fans’ actions. “I’m sure it did,” Collins told the Tribune-Review. “He’s tired.”

Collins could have earned some credibility with his comments had he made them after the first or even the second game, rather than after the final meeting of the two teams in 2013.

And if the crowds can affect Wright with booing, fans should be encouraged to embrace their “10th man” role every time the Mets come to town.

Let’s can the silliness that always brings controversy and simply pick each league’s top four home run hitters to participate in the derby and be done with it.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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