It’s not far off to think that most every kid in this great nation at some point during childhood dreams of playing professional sports. I say “most” every because there are children that prefer crafting or throwing rocks at school buses, but those kids aren’t going to get as much content geared in their direction from this blog. But those that did have that dream—myself included—didn’t just want to be a platoon player. They didn’t want to come off the bench and ground out to third base or run out the clock while grabbing a couple boards in garbage time. They didn’t want to be the Jimmy Garappolos who came in to kneel down in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, racking up negative one rushing yard each time.
They wanted to hit that buzzer beating three, walk-off home run or throw a hail Mary to Richard Rodgers (and then Jeff Janis) as time expired. They wanted to be a hero. An MVP.
A perennial All-Star.
But now, being named an All-Star is a bit different than they imagined it when they were kids.
To start, let’s play a quick game. I give you three athletes’ accolades, each from a different sport, and you tell me who they are, or, if you notice anything in particular. Perhaps one sticks out.
One kind of sticks out, right? Player Three is a little different than players one and two, namely in that he is not a perennial All-Star. Clearly, Player Three is the odd one out here. However, they each do have something in common, though the above doesn’t really indicate much. Let’s change it up a bit and compare each of the players above to others in their respective sport in their most recent season.
The stats from this chart are from the 2014 MLB season, as that is Player One’s last active season. Looking at the stats, it becomes incredibly clear that Player One was outperformed in every statistical category other than RBIs, which were almost identical. Despite contributing one-fifth of a win to his team, compared to 2.5 for player two and over three for player three, player one was named the American League’s starting shortstop, while players two and three were left off the team entirely.
As you may have surmised, player one is Yankees legend and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. Player two is Royals shortstop Alcedes Escobar and player three is Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes. It’s clear at this point that it wasn’t Jeter’s numbers that earned him a start in the All-Star game, but his legacy. He underperformed in every category imaginable, but, because the Captain is an all-time great, he was able to receive more votes at SS than any other player in the American League.
Let’s look at the NBA now.
These stats are current (as of 2/2/2016) to this NBA season. Player one is not only below his career averages by a longshot, but well below the numbers of players two and three. But once again, player one was named an All-Star starter while players two and three were left off the team entirely. An astute observer might notice player one’s negative win share number, indicating his contributions to his team cost the team more wins than he contributes. Players two and three don’t have this problem.
Another all-time great and future Hall of Famer, player one is Kobe Bryant. Player two is Damian Lillard, and player three is Kevin Love. Like Jeter, Bryant was named an All-Star not due to his play on the court, but his status as a legend.
Like the NBA stats above, these numbers are current and from this NHL season. Assuming you’re up to date on the sports world, you likely recognize immediately that player one is John Scott, All-Star Captain and eventual All-Star game MVP. His numbers are, across the board, worse than his two fellow athletes’. Scott however, unlike Kobe and Derek Jeter, did not get in based on a legacy of greatness or some bologna “RE2PECT” slogan. He got in—at least at first—as some sort of joke. NHL fans across the world decided to campaign for the journeyman enforcer to make the All-Star game and, somewhat unsurprisingly, it caught on.
I’m not going to even bother going into details regarding the Pro Bowl. The NFL’s All-Star game is a complete joke, as players routinely opt out for injury or because they don’t want to bother actually going to the Pro Bowl and risking getting hurt. A record number of Pro Bowlers were named this year, as more and more players opted out, forcing replacement players to be named.
So the question that all three of these scenarios beg is, of course, what makes an All-Star, and what does it mean to be one? There was a time when being named an All-Star meant you were the best at your position. When Jeter campaigns for a spot in Cooperstown in three years when he’s eligible, his 14 All-Star selections will undoubtedly be mentioned by sportswriters, sportscasters, middle-aged housewives and everyone in between. But, sometime between the first All-Star game back in 1933 and the 2014, the game—and election process—lost some merit.
Big market teams constantly send more All-Stars almost every year. Clubs based in New York, LA, Boston, etc. where populations far outnumber places like Oakland or Tampa Bay can submit a ludicrous amount of votes each season, blowing away any chances of small market teams making the cut. Teams often encourage fans not to vote for the best at each position, but to vote for their hometown players. Never once have I heard the Phillies broadcasters, PA announcer, commercials, etc. encourage me to vote for the best first basement. Instead I’m encouraged to vote for Ryan Howard, who barely plays baseball.
Last year, Major League Baseball ran into a bit of an issue with All-Star voting when, come crunch time, eight of the nine starters for the American League were set to be members of the Kansas City Royals. Voting brigades from KC stuffed virtual ballot boxes to that point that players like Omar Infante were set to be given the starting nod over hits-leader Jose Altuve. The lone non-Royal was Angels’ OF Mike Trout. In fourth place, one spot away from a starting position, was Royal’s OF Alex Rios. Major League Baseball avoided controversy by canceling some 60 million “fraudulent” votes, which helped to balance out the lineup a bit.
My point is, being an All-Star—even in baseball, which touts each year that “This One Counts,”—is all but meaningless to the game.
It isn’t meaningless to everyone involved, however. Case in point, John Scott. Scott penned a powerful piece for the Players’ Tribune that earned the respect of many fans. When the NHL tried to force Scott to decline the invite, he said no. When he was traded and immediately optioned to the minors in an effort to keep him out of the game, NHL fans said no. John Scott had—at least in the eyes of NHL fans and his own children—earned himself a spot on the All-Star team.
So when Scott was named All-Star game MVP after scoring two goals and carried off on the shoulders of his teammates, it did mean something. It meant something to Scott and it meant something to his kids and it meant something to fans and it meant something to the game.
The All-Star voting process might not be flawless—it’s not even effective, really—but it is important. While I would normally advocate for a different means of selecting more deserving players, it is clear that some statistically-impaired players do earn their spots on the team. Kobe and Jeter earned theirs purely through names and legacy, but Scott earned his in an entirely different way. He might not have had the statistics, and his selection might have been “undeserved,” but John Scott was certainly, in the most meaningful way possible, an All-Star.