COMMENTARY | The All-Star Game has become more exciting for fans because of the race for the final National League All-Star position between Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig which has been the most intriguing electoral battle since Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clashed last year.
It has even taken on elements of a political campaign, as a writer accused the Atlanta Braves fans of “ballot stuffing” even as he derided the city’s apathy. It’s all he could pretty much say, given that Freeman has a slight lead while playing in a smaller city.
There is more to this than picking an all-star roster. It is a battle between traditionalists who value experience, smarts, and critical defense over those who feel highlights, home runs, speed and being the perfect physical specimen matters more. It’s between those who care more about the game versus those who would rather watch a home run derby and a home-to-first dash.
Puig is an intriguing player, who has accomplished a lot in about a month. Sportswriters have fallen in love with him. But he’s only been in the leagues for a little more than a month. There isn’t as much difference between the two when you add in Puig’s major league and minor league appearances with Freeman’s, which have been all against major league pitching.
Freeman is the superior position player, making spectacular plays at corralling some pretty hard thrown and often errant bullets from scrappy Braves infielders (ever seen his frequent splits) and heads up plays. Freeman is a smart player, while Puig has received attention for being thrown out trying to take an extra base. The latter is more exciting, but not helpful in a key game that determines home field advantage in the post-season, something the Braves have more to worry about this year than the Dodgers.
Puig may turn out to be a pretty good player. Or he could be like Bob “The Hammer” Hamelin from the Kansas City Royals, who hit 24 home runs in his first 101 games, until pitchers figured him out. Hamelin then couldn’t hit above the Mendoza line, and quit shortly thereafter. In fact, there is a whole article devoted to the Geronimo Berroas, the Chris Sabos, and the Ben Grieves, who couldn’t make it last past a few good months. Sure enough, Puig has cooled off from his red hot start, with one homer and 3 RBIs since the last few days of June, while Freeman generally maintains his consistent pace.
For that matter, you don’t need to look any further than the Braves themselves. Justin Upton and Evan Gattis looked like all-star players after the first 34 games of the season. But one is slumping and the other is hurt and neither will go to the big game, while Freeman has carried his team to first in the division since then. Other players have been impressed by Puig, but acknowledge Freeman to be the better baseball choice.
You don’t have to worry about Freeman, who is still young, yet proved himself an all-star for three seasons by keeping his team in playoff contention during that time, and has already faced the best. Add a spot for Puig in a Home Run Derby (which would play to his strength and casual-fan appeal) or vote for him if you want the A.L. to win, but have Freeman on the field if you want a proven National League player.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He is the author of “Baseball and Ballots: Players and Politicians” in the book “The Politics of Baseball,” edited by Ron Briley, as well as several Yahoo! Sports articles. The photo is by the author.