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NL All-Stars: Missing the Point

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Last week Aaron Gleeman wrote:

My overall view of the All-Star game can probably be summed up by the fact that I think anyone who believes Dontrelle Willis (114.2, 2.04) should start for the NL is insane. Yes, Dontrelle has had a fantastic first half, but so what?

An argument can be made for Roger Clemens and a handful of other National Leaguers to start the All-Star game. However, to dismiss Dontrelle Willis's case is foolish and misses the big picture.

Granted, this is something that many have missed before - including Gleeman (not to pick on Gleeman specifically, because others have made this same argument) - particularly when many advocated Brandon Webb for the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year over Dontrelle. The statistical case for Webb and against Willis was easy enough to make. However, it overlooked the energy that Willis infused into his ballclub, the turnaround that he sparked, and everything that he added to the game with his smile and enthusiasm (even off the field). Sure - none of those things are quantifiable, but the Rookie of the Year award isn't determined by stats and metrics. If it was, there wouldn't be any voting. There would just be a formula and that would be that.

Back to the topic of the day though, a similar argument can (and should) be made in Willis' favor regarding the All-Star game. Dontrelle potentially represents much more to baseball than just his left arm. Dontrelle is a personality. He's someone who appeals to non-baseball fans. The All-Star game is a perfect event for such a character. Better yet, Dontrelle has earned the honor of starting the game so far this year.

Dontrelle is also young and black. This is a distinction that seems to be lost on the folks at The Hardball Times, who seem to feel that Latin ballplayers (who still make their permanent homes outside of the United States) should be considered black on the basis of their skin color alone. However, it's an important distinction. There are not many black pitchers in baseball anymore. Dontrelle Willis and Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia are the two biggest names. For baseball, a sport which is on the decline in inner cities and with minorities, Dontrelle Willis represents a potentially huge marketing opportunity (which, as he is doing this season, he has the ability to back up with on field results).

Dontrelle Willis is someone that kids in the United States can relate to - whether they are rich or poor, black or white, or anything else. Dontrelle is a young, black (African American), and comes from humble roots. He's not Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds - both of whom grew up in major league clubhouses. Dontrelle is a young man who grew up in a single parent household, with a mother who worked hard (as a welder!) to put food on the table. He sure seems to be a decent person - one who offers a lot for a young person to aspire to grow up to be like.

Yes, Roger Clemens has put up great numbers this year. Yes, Roger Clemens is an all-time great. Roger got his All-Star game start in his home park last year though.

Now sure feels like the time to give Dontrelle Willis the spotlight and to let him open up the game to some new fans. And the very least, you're not "insane" for thinking that Dontrelle has earned the start for the NL in the All-Star game.