Ben Zobrist, the All-Star.
Ben Zobrist likes the idea.
“I do,” Ben Zobrist said when the subject was broached during the Tampa Bay Rays last home stand.
Zobrist relaxed at his locker before batting practice on a recent afternoon. A few lockers to his right was Evan Longoria, who will start at third base for the American League during the All-Star game on July 14 in St. Louis. A few lockers to his left was left fielder Carl Crawford, who should also be a member of the American League squad.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett was milling about somewhere in the Rays clubhouse. He could join Longo and C.C. in St. Louis.
Longoria is the people’s choice because he leads all American League third basemen in fan voting.
Crawford leads the major leagues in stolen bases and is third in the majors in hits. He’s batting .319. He plays the best left field in baseball. Crawford is an All-Star.
Bartlett is having the best year of any American League shortstop and would be leading the AL in votes at his position if not for that Jeter fella in New York. Bartlett has the highest average of any shortstop, fields his position like a Gold Glover and has a knack for getting big hits in big moments. Sounds like an All-Star.
At this time last year you couldn’t find an All-Star among the Rays, despite the team flirting with the best record in baseball.
The Rays were halfway through authoring the best story in sports in decades, yet even manager Joe Maddon couldn’t push one of his players for a trip to Yankee Stadium for the Mid-Summer Classic, and that is so unlike Maddon.
Maddon will be the American League manager this year, so he plays a part — a small part — in picking the AL team. Basically, he gets to pick, with the approval of the commissioner’s office, the last guys to make the team.
Maddon submitted his choices Friday. The team will be announced at 1 p.m. today.
Was Ben Zobrist on the list? And, if so, will he make the cut?
“I’d never put it outside the realm of possibilities,” Zobrist said. “It’s always been a goal of mine.”
But is it a legitimate goal this year?
Zobrist began the year as the Rays super utility player. He’s started six positions — second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions — before taking over at second when Akinori Iwamura was injured May 24. He’s having a career year, though that isn’t saying an awful lot.
Yet, Zorilla leads the American League in slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Since May 13, Zobrist has hit .310.
It’s easy to say no, that a utility player, however super, does not deserve a spot on the All-Star team.
But, thanks to the wisdom of commissioner Bug Selig, who saw fit to tie the outcome of the All-Star game to which league gets home field advantage in the World Series, sending Zobrist to St. Louis actually makes sense.
For one, Zobrist is having a good year, so awarding him a roster spot makes more sense than giving it to a player from one of the bottom dwellers solely based on the rule that every team must be represented.
OK, you can argue that point for a handful of players. But here’s what separates Zorilla from the rest of the bubble players:
He is a switch-hitter. He can play six positions. He has shown success as a pinch-hitter.
If you were managing for the chance to play Game 7 of the World Series at home, and Maddon fully expects the Rays to return to the World Series, why wouldn’t you want a guy like Zobrist on your bench?
He can pinch-hit against any pitcher, lefty or righty.
He can sub in at six different positions or move around the field to allow you to get other players in the game.
Having Zobrist in the dugout would give the All-Star manager, in this case his own manager, flexibility not often found in the All-Star game.
Ben Zobrist, the All-Star? I like it. He likes it.
What’s not to like?
Roger Mooney, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.