A few days before the brightest stars in baseball head to Kansas City, the All-Star Game has already seen several curve balls come its way.

From the surprising dominance of knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey to the emergence of rookie Mike Trout and controversy surrounding fellow young buck Bryce Harper’s spot on the roster, baseball’s most famous heavy hitters seem to be an All-Star afterthought. 

Rookie vs. Rookie

Well hot diggity dog, look who snuck his way onto the NL All-Star roster?  Yes Harper-haters, the Nationals stand-out 19-year-old weaseled his way into a trip to Kansas City, thanks to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who will miss the game and undergo knee surgery.  Bryce Harper has felt the heat on a national level since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and I’d say he’s met the challenge in his first season in the Majors. 

In 63 games, the right fielder is batting .282 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and .472 slugging.  

Over in the AL, fellow rook Mike Trout blows Harper out of the water, statistically speaking.  The 20-year-old is hitting .342 with 12 HR, 40 RBI and .564 SLG in 64 games, not to mention his excellent fielding skills.  Oh ya, he also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases. 

While Trout had long been considered a stud by baseball insiders, he was relatively unknown to those outside “the know.”  Trout didn’t face nationwide pressure the way Harper has, or the expectations of carrying an entire big league ball club. 

Anyone in their right mind agrees that Trout is an All-Star (despite not making it as a starter) but the debate rages on in regard to Harper. 

Being selected to an All-Star team isn’t only about statistics.  It’s about representing each team in the league.  Sometimes it is strictly numbers based, other times it’s a popularity contest (decided by the fans), and once in a while the game is used to show respect for a player’s overall career rather than his accomplishments in that season.

What’s wrong with selecting Harper, whose numbers are absolutely respectable?  More importantly, he has reenergized a first-place team and its fans while drawing millions of eyeballs from all over the country to the sport.  With all of the BS tarnishing baseball over the last several years, the sport could use a guy like Harper, who thus far, has brought nothing but good PR, not to mention blessing the world with the great new catch phrase, “that’s a clown question bro.”

Hopefully the 2012 All-Star game will turn out to be an anecdote told in conversation several years from now:   “I watched those two share a field at an All-Star game in their rookie season, before they became two of the best to ever play the game.” 

You can’t go wrong having these two on the All-Star roster. 

The Unexpected Rise of R.A. Dickey

Nobody saw this coming.  Not even R.A. Dickey himself.  The Mets knuckleballer has had one hell of a ride.  The man has battled many demons in his life, from suffering sexual abuse to an injury expected to be career-ending to deep emotional depression.  At age 37, Dickey finally hit his stride with a 12-1 record and 2.40 ERA earning him his first-ever All-Star spot.

Dickey’s career seems to have played in reverse, starting out as a highlight touted first-round draft pick before doctors discovered he had an elbow injury, condemning him as damaged goods.  The more Dickey aged, the stronger he grew, learning, and now seemingly perfecting the art of the knuckleball pitch.  In June, Dickey made history throwing back-to-back one-hitters. 

Despite unquestionably earning a spot as an All-Star starter, the unique and rarely used pitch that got Dickey to this level may keep him out of the starting lineup in Kansas City.

Tony LaRussa, managing the NL team is concerned that his starting catcher, the young Buster Posey of the Giants might struggle to receive knucklers behind the plate.  Since the fans voted Posey a starter, LaRussa might feel forced to relegate Dickey to a backup spot.   Plus, the outcome of the MLB All Star game now actually means something to teams in World Series contention.

It would be an ironic shame if the talent that makes Dickey so spectacular forces him out of the starting lineup, but he is still an enigmatic figure with a story that fans love.  Being a first-time All-Star at age 37 is a great enough accomplishment to keep Dickey happy and the fans in his corner. 

Andrew Who?  Fans, Meet Andrew McCutchen

News of the injured Giancarlo Stanton proves to be the gift that keeps on giving.  First, Bryce Harper learned that he would replace Stanton on the NL All-Star roster.  Then, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the call that he would take Stanton’s place in the Home Run Derby.

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get a lot of love from the media, understandably so considering the franchise has been one of the worst in baseball for many years.  It’s mean, I know, but it’s the truth.  On the bright side, the Pirates have a potential superstar on their hands as McCutchen, in his third year in the Majors, is having an outstanding season thus far. 

In 81 games, McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 HR (including two in Sunday’s win over the Giants) and 60 RBI.   His .362 average leads all of baseball.  Not too shabby for a 25-year-old playing in Pittsburgh. 

In fact, McCutchen has the highest batting average by a Pirate at the All-Star break since World War II. 

Win or lose, McCutchen’s Derby appearance should create some buzz for the emerging star by giving the country an opportunity to get to know the Pirates’ young standout. 

I watched a TV interview with Francoeur today and this dude is awesome.  The KC outfilder threw a baseball wrapped in a $100 bill up into the stands and told the A’s fans that “beer and bacon is on me.”  HA!  And it only gets better from there.  What a cool story. Click the link to read it:    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/jeff-francoeur-gets-pizza-delivered-fans-bleachers-233500021.html

 

If you’ve watched the Chiefs at all over the last few years, it’s obvious that something isn’t quite right in Kansas City.  We knew the X’s and O’s were suspect, but the behavior of the front office, as reported by the Kansas City Star, takes this situation to a whole new level of dysfunction. 

In the story written by Kent Babb, information from more than two dozen current and former Chiefs employees paints a picture of paranoia and illegal surveillance of employees by management.

Todd Haley, the former Chiefs head coach who was fired mid-season is quoted in the article, accusing management of bugging rooms in the team facility and tampering with his personal cell phone (that he had before he was hired by KC). 

The article quotes several sources (both anonymously and by name) and a few of them said that while the culture certainly changed once Scott Pioli was hired as the general manager in 2009, that the new rules and regulations weren’t bothersome to them personally.  On the other hand, the majority quoted in the article describe a McCarthy-esque work environment that not only violates personal privacy, but also breaks the law. 

Unless Pioli is an undercover FBI agent posing as a football GM (and by the looks of the Chiefs, that isn’t a stretch) and invoking the Patriot Act, wire tapping without the knowledge of the other party is illegal (in most states).  Babb notes that employee turnover has been through the roof since Pioli was hired and some former staffers are suing the organization.  The following excerpt from Babb’s article is hard to believe:

"Some of the first changes involved shutting off access and protecting information. Non-football employees, including those who had worked for the Chiefs for decades, were told that they weren’t allowed on certain floors, or in certain areas of the team facility. Business-side staffers with an office window facing the practice fields were made to keep their shades drawn during practices. The team president was no exception. A security guard made the rounds during practices, sometimes interrupting phone calls and meetings to lower shades."

Talk about going overboard, right?  Many cited in the article said the intrusive measures were taken to prove which employees were loyal to the team and the cause, and which weren’t.  As one former higher-up told Babb, “The level of paranoia was probably the highest that I had ever seen it anywhere.  If you make the wrong step, you might not be able to pay your mortgage.”

Sure, this all sounds great if its in a science fiction novel, but in real life?  If true, this is scary stuff.  While I am shocked at the depth of the allegations, the general idea isn’t that surprising seeing is that Pioli came from New England and was a part of the infamous Spygate in 2007. 

Pioli, a good friend and longtime coworker of Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role in the scandal involving the Patriots stealing signs by secretly video taping the New York Jets coaching staff.  Belichick and the Patriots’ secrecy, gate-keeping and limited access is legendary in the sports world. 

"A common notion is that employees are constantly being watched. When they arrive and leave, where they’re going within the building and who they’re talking to. Indeed, the technology exists at the Chiefs’ offices, as it does in many corporate settings, to monitor phone calls and emails," writes Babb.  "But here, some staffers even hesitated before using their cell phones or speaking inside the building, because, like Haley, they suspected that conversations were monitored."

Former stadium operations director Steve Schneider told Babb, ‘The capability was definitely there for Big Brother to be watching.”

True or not, this story should inspire an even bigger brother to look into the practices of Pioli and the Chiefs management.  I’m guessing the ACLU is already on the case.  You would think with all of the alleged technology, surveillance and attention to detail, that the front office would’ve at least found a way to muster up more than seven wins from its team this season.  Go figure. 

To read more of Kent Babb’s fascinating story about the Chiefs, click this link:  http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371495/arrowhead-anxiety-turnover-off.html#storylink=cpy