On Tuesday, the three-day All Star Festivities conclude with the Mid-Summer Classic, where baseball’s best players supposedly square off for league pride and homefield advantage in the World Series (this time, it counts!). But, of course, it hasn’t really turned out that way for the past several years. Instead, like punk rock in the 1970s, it has failed to follow through on its vision and fallen remarkably flat. Observe:
Andrew McCutchen is like Glen Matlock
Who is Glen Matlock, you ask? Good question. Matlock is not a disarmingly kind Southern lawyer, played by Andy Griffith, who is constantly underestimated. That’s Ben Matlock. Glen is the original bassist and primary song-writer for The Sex Pistols. He would write the music (he’s credited with co-writing ten of the twelve songs on Never Mind the Bollocks…), while Johnny Rotten wrote the lyrics. He left the group in 1977 amid controversy. There were rumors he had been fired (because he liked The Beatles); supporting this theory, he had had several public disagreements with Rotten. But according to Matlock, he left of his own accord because he was tired of the bull—-.”
Without Matlock the group lasted less than a year, famously breaking up at the end of their US tour. However, while Matlock was a driving and stabilizing force within the group, and bears a large responsibility for their success (though Rotten is, of course, more responsible), he missed out on the band’s most iconic stretch as they tumbled downward through America and fell apart. In some part, this disintegration was because his replacement simply was neither as good, nor as sane as he was, but more on that in a minute. Glen Matlock deserves a heck of a lot more credit in the popular imagination than he received for the band’s success, but was left out of most of the fame associated with the group.
Similarly, Andrew McCutchen been the second best player in the National League this year, whether you want to use fWAR or rWAR to make that argument. McCutchen’s combination of incredible defense at an up-the-middle position (Fangraphs credits him with an 8.3 UZR), and terrific offense (.292/.393/.500, 13 homers, 15 SB, 150 OPS+) has been the rock at the heart of the upstart Pirates in 2011. And yet, despite being the second best PLAYER in the NL, he’s not on a team that features eight outfielders, but only one centerfielder. McCutchen’s omission borders on criminal negligence, as though Bruce Bochy was just tossing darts at a board with his eyes closed and randomly hit Carlos Beltran. So, as you watch Lance Berkman stumble going after balls in the gap on Tuesday, remember that you could have voted in a real centerfielder, or that Major League Baseball could have mandated his inclusion.
Sid Vicious was not a musician. He was a terrible bass player when Malcolm McLaren tapped him to replace Matlock, so bad that he didn’t even play the bass on Never Mind the Bollocks…. Instead, Steve Jones recorded that part, in addition to his guitar line. But Vicious was good at being both drunk and high, starting fights, jumping around on stage, and dressing in the appropriate style. So, naturally, he was in. Vicous was the perfect punk in that he didn’t care, at least initially, that he couldn’t play. He was just happy to be there and causing trouble.
Likewise, I’m sure that Andre Ethier is happy to be an All Star. And it’s not necessarily that he’s a bad player. At .311/.380/.447, even with his terrible defense, he has value. But he has nowhere near the ability, nor the performance, of Andrew McCutchen, a player whose presence is sorely needed on the NL roster. Unless you want Ethier or Beltran hobbling around CF. Here’s hoping the rest of Ethier’s career goes better than Vicious.
Bruce Bochy is like Malcolm McLaren
McLaren was the owner of SEX, a clothing store in London that catered to the building punk aesthetic with S&M inspired clothing. He became the manager of The Strand in 1976, and went about turning them into the Sex Pistols, bringing in both Matlock and Rotten. According to Matlock and the 2000 documentary The Filth and The Fury, McLaren also actively worked to drive a wedge between Rotten and Matlock. Once Matlock was out of the group, McLaren brought in Vicous as the embodiment of the attitude of punk. Given the disasterous route the band took following the dismissal of Matlock, it’s tempting to lay all of their dissolution at his feet. That may not be entirely fair, as the personalities in the group may not have been able to coexist regardless of McLaren’s efforts. For all his faults, McLaren was a brilliant promoter and effectively managed the ascencion of the band, sometimes in spite of the efforts of Johnny Rotten to alienate everyone. But he did make one horrendous call in adding the unstable Vicious to an unstable lineup.
Bochy has been, rightly, considered one of the game’s better managers for years. In 17 years managing the Padres and Giants, he’s won five division titles, two pennants, and a World Series, which was particularly impressive during his years heading up the low budget Pads. His players seem to like him, he doesn’t seem to be a terrible in-game strategist, and he juggles the playing time needs of his clubs fairly well. But, man, his continued refusal to put Andrew McCutchen on his NL All Star squad might be the single worst omission I can remember. It’s not like McCutchen’s a borderline candidate, or is a headcase, or is having a fluke year. Rather, McCutchen is one of the brightest up-and-coming superstars in the National League, who gets relatively little press because he plays in Pittsburgh, and has been generally highly regarded by his team and his fans.
And this is actually an area where I have some personal experience. As the clubhouse manager of the Williamsport Crosscutters when McCutchen came through, I saw him do everything asked of him, play hard, and treat people well both in public and in private. He seemed like a good kid who hadn’t let his draft status go to his head. While this probably makes me biased as an evaluator, the sheer excellence of McCutchen’s performance should stand on its own merits, and his credentials be readily apparent, and he’ll continue putting up similar performances for the forseeable future.
Dick Hebdige’s foundational Cultural Studies book Subculture: The Meaning of Style (truly an excellent read, and short) goes through the rise of punk, both the music and the style that accompanied it. Punk was in part a response to the glam rock excesses of the 1970s, and in part a rebellion against societal niceties. It advocated anarchy and was anti-establishment and anti-capitalism. It rebelled for rebellion’s sake. As such, most of its early followers purported to not care about how they looked. The older and shabbier the clothes they could find, the better. Johnny Rotten was discovered with green hair, and in a ripped Pink Floyd T-shirt with “I hate” written in pen, and jeans held together with safety pins. Soon, as Hebdige reports, McLaren’s store was selling ripped jeans, safety pins, and other trappings of punk style. It became a trend. The style had been adopted, co-opted, and commercialized by the dominant culture. And led us on a long, sad road to Blink-182 and Good Charlotte. /sigh
Likewise, the All Star Game clearly is not making space for the best players, given that McCutchen is out, and that it focuses on elevating relievers (or failed starters, as I like to call them) to the squad over starters like Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Tommy Hanson. Nor does the All Star Game actually “count.” Since the infamous tie in 2002, no World Series has gone to seven games, meaning that the winner of the All Star Game has never actually mattered, despite what Bud Selig and the rest of the ASG PR team would like you to believe.
Instead, the All Star Game is reluctantly relegated to a spectacle. It is unintentionally style over substance. It has accidentally become the antithesis of what is promised. Which kind of sucks. Because, if we could embrace the game as pure spectacle, I have a feeling we would all have a lot more fun with it. If we could get over concepts like nominations being about “respect” and about making the game artificially relevant, we could embrace the otherworldly talents and gifts that these ballplayers bring to the game.