Ryan Franklin spent more than 15 seasons trying to become an All-Star, wending through Bellingham and Appleton and Port City, working as a starter, middleman and setup guy, waiting for that special night to hear the PA announcer call his name, jog to the foul line and tip his cap.
The St. Louis closer got summoned last summer and proudly took his place during pregame introductions, a first-timer at age 36. So it’s easy to understand how he feels about the big question lingering over next month’s game.
Should Stephen Strasburg make it this year as a rookie? A rookie with only a few weeks in the majors, at that.
“No chance. No chance. You can’t be an All-Star if you’ve pitched six games. It just ain’t right. He’s got a tremendous future, but he’s not an All-Star,” Franklin said. “I just don’t think it’s fair.”
Forget, too, this is billed as the fans’ game. Never mind the Washington ace is now the brightest light in the baseball universe, a phenom so electric President Barack Obama recently came over to Nationals Park for a look.
No, skip all that. There’s a better reason why Strasburg should absolutely be Stars-burg when rosters are announced Sunday: He can help the National League finally win one of these games.
It’s been awhile. The last time the NL won, the game was played in a ballpark that no longer exists (Veterans Stadium), on a surface the NL no longer uses (artificial turf).
That was in 1996, back when the Milwaukee Brewers were still in the American League. Four players on the original rosters for that game in Philadelphia — Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith — are already in the Hall of Fame.
The AL has not lost since then, a span of 12 wins interrupted only by the 11-inning tie in 2002.
If the NL is serious about winning on July 13 in a game that’s often played more like an exhibition — especially with home-field advantage in the World Series going to the victor — Strasburg is an automatic choice.
Imagine the likes of Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter, as good as they are, trying to hit someone they’ve never seen before. At twilight time in Anaheim, when batters often are swinging at shadows.
No one’s had much luck so far, at least not the first time they’ve faced the imposing 21-year-old righty. Through Strasburg’s five starts, batters are nine for 44 with 18 strikeouts and one walk against him the first trip through the lineup.
Strasburg is 2-2 with a 2.27 ERA, giving up 25 hits and striking out 48 in 31 2⁄3 innings overall. The Nationals haven’t helped him much with run support or timely defense.
Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle is against Strasburg making the All-Star team. On the other hand, he can understand why he might.
“He’s got the stuff, but he hasn’t done enough yet,” he said. “With the AL and NL trying to win the game, I can see maybe they’ll put him on the team. I can see that aspect.”
There certainly are plenty of top arms for the NL staff. Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Mike Pelfrey have dominated as starters, plus there are the relievers.
“This is the year of the pitcher, and I don’t think we’re hurting,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “We had to make some tough choices to pick five starters and he hasn’t been out there very long. I don’t know how much consideration he’s going to get.”
Rosters were increased to 34 this year, though that won’t quell the never-ending debate of who should be an All-Star — players having the best season, popular stars, maybe someone in his final year?
Or someone such as Strasburg, who’s drawing the kind of crazy attention that surrounded the likes of Ichiro, Dwight Gooden and Mark Fidrych. There was such a swarm around newcomer Hideo Nomo in 1995 that in a break from tradition, he lined up with his NL teammates for pregame introductions rather than stay in the bullpen to warm up to start the game.
Arizona manager A.J. Hinch can see both sides with Strasburg.
“Certainly the buzz around him is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years,” he said. “If Billy Wagner is in his last season and he was the guy scratched for Strasburg, that’s a difficult situation. Who would he replace?”
Adds Kansas City manager Ned Yost: “I’ve got conflicting opinions, OK.”
“One, the All-Star game is for the fans. Would the fans love to see Strasburg? Yes. So in that respect, I say yes. Does he have All-Star stuff? Is his stuff worthy of being an All-Star? Yes. Are his numbers worthy of being All-Star? No. Because he hasn’t had enough time to develop those numbers,” he said. “If he’s on the team, it’s not going to bother me. If he’s not, it’s not going to bother me.”
Dodgers manager Joe Torre says no.
“I don’t know the kid, but if you asked him he’d probably tell you the same thing, just because of the time he’s been here. It’s not that he’s not All-Star material. If you’re looking to interest people, you put him on.”
About the only one who’s not getting involved in the debate is Strasburg himself.
“I think Stephen’s embarrassed by it a little bit,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “He has such great respect for not only his teammates but the whole league that he realizes there’s a lot of worthy candidates to be on the All-Star team.”
NL manager Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia, NL players and Major League Baseball get some say in who makes the team.
“People ... start saying, ‘it would be a shame if he’s not in.’ I say there’s a lot of shame every day somewhere. A lot of things happen,” Manuel said this week.
“I’ve got a very open mind about him,” he said.
Here’s a guess on how it actually will be decided. After the rosters are announced Sunday, fans get to vote online for the final player on each side. There will be five AL candidates, five in the NL.
Strasburg is going to be on that list, chances are. And if he is, he’s going to the game.