Forget Stephen Strasburg (and it pains me to say that, because I love the guy). There are players much more deserving of a trip to the 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star Game than the Washington Nationals’ young ace. And even though the flame-throwing phenom might end up in Anaheim on July 13, my only hope is that these three guys will join him there.
R.A. Dickey, Starting Pitcher, New York Mets
As more or less a career minor leaguer, R. A. Dickey hasn’t even had the opportunity to fathom what playing in a big league All-Star game might be like. This year, the knuckleballer — along with his 6-1 record and 2.98 ERA — should at least be allowed to consider Disneyland as part of his travel plans over the break.
A former first-round draft pick by Texas in 1996, Dickey has quite the backstory leading up to what has arguably become his most productive major league season so far.
After being taken 18th overall by the Rangers in the ’96 June Amateur Draft, a team doctor saw a photo of Dickey on the cover of a magazine and noticed that the right-hander’s pitching arm looked a little funny. The organization put Dickey through medical testing prior to signing him and discovered that he lacked the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, also known as the ligament that requires repair when a pitcher undergoes Tommy John surgery.
Because of this revelation, Dickey was offered a $75,000 signing bonus, as opposed to the $810,000 bonus the team initially had on the table. The University of Tennessee product was forced to accept this reduced offer, and thus began an unpredictable journey through professional baseball.
Ultimately, it would be five years before Dickey reached the big leagues. His major league debut came with Texas in 2001, and from 2003 through 2006, the Nashville native enjoyed short stints with the club in Arlington.
By 2007, Dickey had been let go by the Rangers and was barnstorming through the minor leagues. The year prior he had made the full-time conversion to knuckleball pitcher, which meant relearning how to craft his mechanics at the age of 31.
In 2008, the Mariners saw potential in Dickey and selected him in the Rule V Draft from the Twins’ organization. The 33-year-old enjoyed a career renaissance, of sorts, and spent most of the year in the majors, albeit with a team that would lose 101 games.
On a personal side note, in April of ’08 The Seattle Times (my former employer, who I wasn’t working for at the time) held a writing contest in which they gave away buttons featuring the likenesses of every player on the Mariners’ roster. Whoever could craft the best story about why they deserved one of these buttons would receive their prize and have their story printed in the paper.
Realizing that almost no one would submit an essay about a journeyman knuckleballer, I sent in a few brief paragraphs about an R.A. Dickey rookie card that I had been holding onto since 1997. Within the hour, I had a response from then-sports editor Cathy Henkel, telling me I had won. My story was printed later in the week and I received the button in the mail a few days later.
Back to the topic at hand. After his resurgent 2008 campaign, Dickey spent a so-so 2009 season with the Minnesota Twins. He then left the Twinkies and signed a minor league deal with the Mets this past offseason. Like always, the crafty right-hander started the year in Triple-A before being promoted after the injury bug stung New York’s rotation. Since his call-up on May 19, however, the 35-year-old has been absolutely lights out.
If Dickey’s aforementioned record and ERA don’t sway you, the biography should. Few players would be a more compelling draw in an All-Star game than R.A. Dickey. Will he get there? It’s unlikely. Should he get there? Absolutely.
Arthur Rhodes, Relief Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Arthur Rhodes. The original bling-blinger. One of our most beloved ex-Mariners of all-time, and a damn good pitcher who has spent 20 big league seasons avoiding the All-Star game.
It’s almost unfathomable to think that someone could have as long a career as Arthur and not be selected to the All-Star team even once. But as one of the game’s premier setup men over the years, the hard-throwing lefty has managed to distance himself from the spotlight. Starters get the chicks, closers get the credit, Arthur does the grunt work. It hardly seems right.
Admittedly, I might have overlooked Arthur once again this season if it hadn’t been for this article in USA Today. I encourage you to give it a read. You’ll walk away loving Arthur more than you already do.
And personally, Arthur is one of my favorite baseball players of all-time. It all stems from one incident that came seven years ago.
Back in 2003, my family went down to Spring Training in Peoria to watch the Mariners prepare for the season. In between workouts one day, we happen to see Arthur walking past, so my 80-year-old grandma walks over to him and asks for an autograph.
*A brief side note. Both of my grandmas are bigger Mariners fans than myself. They call each other up to discuss the games and lament every loss like it’s the end-all. You wonder why I pick on a dude like Ryan Rowland-Smith for not caring enough? He’s just lucky he didn’t run into either of my grandmas. They would’ve kicked his ass. I just want this team to win a title that my grandmas can pay witness to. That would be nice.
Topic at hand. So my grandma confronts Arthur Rhodes, and not having anything else for him to sign, she hands him the visor she’s wearing and asks him to pen his name on the bill. Arthur obliges. But he does so with one condition. He gets to wear the visor for the rest of this signing session.
By this time, a large crowd has swarmed the southpaw and adults and kids alike are clamoring for Rhodes’ signature. In the midst of all the hubbub stands a visor-less five-foot tall Japanese lady alongside a burly, African-American dude wearing a cheap foam visor with animated baseballs painted on the brim.
Arthur spends five minutes signing in the visor, posing for pictures in the visor, clowning in the visor, and chatting in the visor while we wait for him to finish. The crowd disperses. He takes off the visor, hands it to my grandma, signs the bill, has a brief conversation with her, and goes back to work. We get a few pictures of him in the headgear before he leaves. It’s a great snapshot of who this guy really is. And how can you not appreciate a professional who will take time out to recognize your grandmother? It made me feel good to know that Arthur is a human being that cares, aside from the game.
But that little anecdote shouldn’t be what convinces you that this is the year for Mr. Rhodes to head to the Midsummer Classic. His 2010 numbers will tell the complete story: 3-2 win-loss record, 1.09 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 32/12 K/BB ratio, 8.73 strikeouts per nine innings, 14 holds. Sounds like an All-Star to me.
If Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn each received lifetime achievement nods in 2001, why can’t Junior be given the same tip of the cap this year?
Yeah, okay, so Ripken and Gwynn were still playing, trekking through the league on their respective farewell tours, but what does it say about Ken that he wouldn’t subject himself to a swan song when his performance was no longer up to par? If anything, we should be more apt to let Junior play in the All-Star game because he bowed out early, not in spite of it.
The fact that the game is in Anaheim, where Junior and his dad once hit back-to-back home runs, and where Seattle fans can easily make the trip to see their hero in action, only fuels the cause for getting Griffey in the jersey of the American League stars.
If Griffey swaggered onto that field for one last at-bat, you’d have a tough time keeping the tears out of my eyes as it went down. Even without any heroics, just seeing him in his element one final time would be truly special.
Come on, baseball. Let’s do the right thing.