Most of the time, when the idea of players self-regulating themselves is brought up, it’s usually in reference to their rather unhinged tendency to repay quibbles about etiquette by chucking baseballs at each other. Cubs farmhand Dallas Beeler, selling himself short to a convention audience, once said “I’ve never been good at much besides throw a baseball,” and beanball wars often give the idea that players are resolving conflicts with the only tools they have.
It obscures the truth that player reactions and attitudes are largely edifying. After all, they’re slowly forcing people to realize that the contractual nature of their positions and the pressure to maximize on the value of a limited earning window pushes them away from niceties like fan and team loyalty, even if they might otherwise covet it. And just the increased media and social availability of players is picking away at the idea of the disinterested, disaffected athlete. Slowly, but surely.
With the teams having just been announced, it’s All-Star Game time now. If sabermetrics have done nothing else, they’vve giddily pointed out how out of line the selection of nearly every award and honor is with any pursuit to reward players on pure merit. In turn, any serious or stat-friendly baseball fan has to simply chock up the game as schlocky, MLB-promoting entertainment in order to stifle the outrage of the inevitable errors, snubs and absurdist shows of ignorance and bias from the fans’, manager’s and even players’ selections.
However, as the announcement of the All-Star selections trickled in, the importance it maintains with players was apparent with Jesse Crain, whose reactions ran the gamut between teary in response to a crowning personal achievement of an improbably long 10-year career, newly frustrated at the injury that will prevent him from playing and poignantly loyal and self-aware in his realizing that this would likely represent one of his last opportunities to represent the White Sox.
While he was a top-100 prospect and viewed as a future closer during his time in the minors, Crain’s big league career has seen him weather through season-ending–and, as with any pitcher arm injury, career-threatening–tears of his labrum and rotator cuff as a well as a performance-based demotion to the minors as recently as 2009. He hasn’t just beaten the odds by being a reliever who has lasted 10 years, he’s beaten the odds by being a guy who’s had to crawl back from serious injury, loss of confidence and countless reinventions (this season included) of his style to be pitching the best ball of his life at age of 32.
As it so happens, the All-Star Game gets to act as a reminder to Crain just how crazy of a run it has been, as well as serve as the only bit of recognition that middle relievers can hope to luck into, unless they count being the subject of trade rumors.
The news appears to be striking Chris Sale is a decidedly different way. Sale was already taking ownership and flagellating himself for losses that weren’t his sins last season, so now that his rotation-ace status is confirmed by a large and lengthy contract, it’s only ramped up. His pining to trade his All-Star honors “for a win today” is a standard ‘good teammate thing to say,’ but sounds funnier when framed as Sale placing a lot of importance on getting the Sox to 35-50. Maybe he just cares about winning, or maybe he’s torturing himself.
There’s no time, or less tolerance for stopping and smelling the bonus checks for the young and hyper-talented. At this point Sale’s expectations are such that the All-Star Game is conquered ground–an expected honor that will be appreciated at its time and then swiftly kicked aside as he tears toward the goal of proving he’s capable of staying strong for 200 innings and more, before more unreasonable demands emerge in its stead.
But since Sale now has the longest active All-Star Game appearance streak, it represents another step in his ascension to face of the franchise, which could entail him being the only White Sox face worth showing to national audiences for the next year or so. As many failed prospects and ideas currently occupy the Sox roster, the miracle of Sale tackling all of the challenges thrown his way–such as a near-immediate promotion to the majors, a transition to the starting rotation, having to argue his way back into it and of course, that wacky delivery–is as amazing to think about as it has ever been.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan