Blessed Are the Young, for They Shall Inherit Baseball
On a night where baseball celebrated its past, the youth movement took centerstage.
Before last night’s All-Star Game, Major League Baseball held a ceremony to celebrate a web traffic-driving promotional campaign called Franchise Four. Fans previously voted on the four greatest players to wear each franchise’s jersey and all 120 of them were revealed on the Great American Ballpark’s giant video screens. The ceremony climaxed with the “Greatest Living Players” taking the field. Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays shuffled to the mound, soaked in the applause and left. There was, as it happens, some baseball to play.
That details of the ceremony are relevant, not so much because it was memorable or even very important, but because of what happened next—Mike Trout led off the All-Star Game with a home run. You smell that? It’s the noxious aroma of symbolism. Four men with a combined age higher than Trout’s batting average (331 years vs .312) had just left the field and the 23-year-old manchild had immediately made it clear who the real stars of the night were. Not the old dudes who played decades ago, but the young ones who’ve still got decades to go.
Along with Trout, there were 19 other players on last night’s rosters who were 25 or younger. That’s more young guys than any other All-Star Game before. And they were everywhere. They played in the outfield and in the infield. They pitched and they caught. They started and they came off the bench.
They excelled, like Trout and Manny Machado, who doubled in a run and nearly put two more on the board with a shot to warning track, and they flailed, like Bryce Harper, Joc Pederson, and Salvador Perez, who were a combined 0-7 with six strikeouts.
But none of that really mattered on a night when their simple presence was enough to make baseball’s transformation clear. There are dozens of highly-skilled and highly-marketable young stars playing the game right now. Hell, not even all of them were in Cincinnati. Yasiel Puig, Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa and Joey Gallo will be staples of All-Star Games of the future.
And that’s only the hitters. The three 25-and-under pitchers who threw last night went three innings, striking out three and giving up a run. Relative geriatrics Jacob deGrom and Aroldis Chapman, both 27, put on the most dominant pitching performances. deGrom struck out the side in the sixth on 10 pitches, the fewest ever thrown in a three strikeout inning at the All-Star Game. Two innings later Chapman struck out the side himself, throwing 14 pitches, 12 of which were over 100 mph.
Speaking of old dudes, there were two home runs hit last night in addition to Trout’s and they came off the bats of 28-year-olds Andrew McCutchen and Brian Dozier. The game is so young now that guys born when Derek Jeter was in high school are considered old.
Seems like maybe I should mention the score of the game at some point, so here it is: 6-2 American League. But does anyone really care? As hard as MLB has tried to make the All-Star Game “matter,” it’s impossible to get worked up about World Series home field advantage in July. The All-Star Game works much better as a showcase of talent and last night it was oozing out of a bunch of guys barely old enough to buy beer. That’s good for baseball and it’s good for fans, especially those of us who like leagues that celebrate their future more than they obsess over their past.
Photos by Rob Carr/Getty Images