- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The ire over Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game rosters, as predictable a rite of summer as Fourth of July fireworks and second-degree sunburns, has arrived again.

This time most of it is centered around two players: Tim Wakefield, Boston’s 42-year-old knuckleballer making his first career All-Star appearance despite a 4.30 ERA, and Ryan Howard, the Phillies first baseman picked for his second All-Star Game - by his manager, Charlie Manuel - despite putting up the same kind of high-homer, low-average seasons that failed to get him into the past two Midsummer Classics.

There’s always a fair amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth over these picks, particularly because of two seemingly opposed rules: the clause that says every team must have at least one representative and the decision to award World Series home-field advantage to the league that wins the All-Star Game.

In the cases of Wakefield and Howard, there are certainly arguments to be made that neither belongs on the roster - and most of these cases are already being bandied about by sabermetrics apostles on the Internet.

Wakefield, they argue, is going because of his AL-best 10 wins, which are more the product of being on a good team than how the 17-year veteran has pitched (his ERA is 29th best in the American League and he doesn’t rank among the AL’s top 10 pitchers in any statistical category except wins).

And Howard’s selection took the place of somebody like San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting .333 and is in the NL’s Final Man vote, or the Nationals’ Adam Dunn, who is staying home despite having two more homers than Howard with an on-base percentage that’s 75 points higher.

It’s fine - and fun - to get mad at Manuel and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon for some of the All-Star picks (Howard and Wakefield, as well as St. Louis’ Ryan Franklin, to name a few). But in reality the system leaves the managers few choices of their own.

After the fans pick the eight starters, players, coaches and managers are responsible for the next 16 players chosen - eight pitchers and one backup at each position. After that vote, managers get eight more spots, needing to be mindful of teams that aren’t yet represented, pitchers that might not be able to work multiple innings and positions that need to be filled out.

Two of Manuel’s eight selections - Pittsburgh’s Freddy Sanchez and Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero - had to be there because their teams wouldn’t have had a representative otherwise. Same goes for three of Maddon’s eight - Oakland’s Andrew Bailey, the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle and Baltimore’s Adam Jones.

The process is parsed and prodded in so many places, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said last month in Baltimore that the last All-Star Game he managed (the AL’s 15-inning epic win over the NL last year) wasn’t all that much fun.

“We told the team before the game what I was going to try to do - play everybody and win,” Francona said. “Everyone was very cooperative, and we managed to do it. I was very thankful because it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of fun out of it.”

Francona obviously had some extenuating circumstances with the 15-inning game, but he would’ve run out of pitchers had the game gone any longer because Tampa Bay didn’t want him to use Scott Kazmir for more than an inning because Kazmir had pitched two days earlier.

But his point remains: The system doesn’t allow for much freedom in player selection, because there’s so many interests to keep in balance.

So if you’re inclined to cry, scream and throw things about Wakefield, Howard or any of the other dubious selections to this year’s game, just get mad at the process more than the managers.

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