By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Those last three weeks or so of the pre-All-Star break Chicago Cubs messed me up, folks. The rational, objective part of my brain is repeating (see: yelling), “They are fine, bad stretches happen.” Thirty-four years of fan muscle memory, meanwhile, is twitching “I’M SCARED, HOLD ME.”READ MORE: 'WasteShed' Art Store, Selling Recycled Supplies For Less, Opens Second Location In Evanston
And now those two diametrically opposed sides of my mind are in cahoots, combining for sacrilegious thoughts on this the 2016 world-famous Cubs team. I’ve aged decades in those weeks and find myself dangerously close to writing for one of our city’s fine, reasoned newspapers. I’m poo-pooing what should be a casual, fun experience Tuesday. So be it.
I’m not jacked up for the American League vs. the Chicago Cubs. All-Star Games, MLB’s in particular, have their issues, but I’m not here to beat that dead horse. I’ll let New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi do that for me:
“If the game has that much importance, I think you should take whatever your best roster is. Bottom line. I know they wanted to get away from what happened a couple of years ago, but I found it really hard, as a manager, to tell a player that he wasn’t going to play and hold him back.
“I thought that was really unfair. If you want to make it count, I think you ought to have re-entry rules in a sense. I don’t think that’s right. It might be a player’s only All-Star Game. You’re not going to play? That bothers me.”
Do seven Cubs selections (and now two White Sox players after Jose Quintana was chosen Sunday to join Chris Sale) have me more likely to watch? For sure, but not without trepidation.
I will always have a Ray Fosse phobia of players getting injured in exhibition games. Logic tells me that risking even the slightest chance of injury for an antiquated game is dumb (and the number of selected All-Stars with slight dings and dents who bow out of this important honor supports that). Pure reflexive fear tells me Anthony Rizzo will tear a ligament or Kris Bryant will be decapitated.
When a preferred team is somewhere between meh and suck, there is consolation in watching its All-Star representative or two. I’ve measured out my life in Sammy Sosa and Starlin Castro meaningless Midsummer Classic at-bats as extension of my self-worth.
But when that preferred team has World Series aspirations, the pride felt in six players dressed for the game (and a seventh in Dexter Fowler already injured) is mitigated by that much more torque on a shoulder or oblique. And all the supposed fun of watching the All-Star Game becomes that much more of a chore.
The game matters, though, we are told. And if the number of Cubs selected is exemplary of the potential of the team as a whole, the six All-Star Cubs with all four starting infielders together have a greater shot than the typical yearly contender of impacting the game’s outcome and subsequently home-field advantage in the World Series should they get that far. Controlling one’s own fate as much as it’s possible in an All-Star Game at least satisfies the old argument that a bad inning from a pitcher from a last-place team shouldn’t possibly impact Game 7 of a World Series.READ MORE: Local Businesses Hope For Similar Outcome Of Shoppers For Small Business Saturday
Shortstop Addison Russell and second baseman Ben Zobrist aren’t the best options to have a positive impact for the National League. Russell is this year’s most glaring flaw in fan voting. Entering the break, he’s 10th among NL shortstops in wRC+ and sixth in WAR. Him starting the game at shortstop is superficially cool, but if you value October more, then it’s not so much.
Zobrist’s year so far has been good, but in wonderful Cubby irony, he’s no evil damned Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals. Murphy’s .985 OPS and non-existent plate appearances against presumable American League starting pitcher Chris Sale would more likely produce success.
Jake Arrieta is an obvious All-Star, but something is amiss with his game right now that has made him less of the superhero we’ve become used to. Maybe it’s that famous ESPN the Body issue jinx. Maybe it’s something more realistic. Either way, his appearance in the All-Star Game suddenly isn’t about assuming his greatness as much as hoping for its return.
But more than stats and likelihoods, what has me most rankled is rest. The Cubs finished that last series in Pittsburgh clearly gassed and in dire need of Netflix and chill and some of manager Joe Maddon’s philosophy of clearing heads of all things baseball for several days. They had 24 games without a day off entering the break, which had Zobrist speaking out against such scheduling and the problems that poses regarding fatigue.
“We’ve got to do better at taking care of players and making sure the fans get the best of the players when they’re showcasing their abilities,” Zobrist told the Tribune. “When you’re playing that many days, it ends up not being as much about excellence as it is about money and players’ endurance.
“But when you experience something like we’ve experienced the last 24 days, it’s like, ‘Whoa, this is not the way our bodies are made to compete.'”
And now Zobrist gets to fly to San Diego and play in another game and sleep in another hotel and fly back to Chicago. Ditto for Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Arrieta, and Jon Lester. At a time when the best of the Cubs should be relaxing like the rest of the team and coaching staff, they’re on a business trip, casual as it may be. Getting away from baseball entirely might be a more proper tonic for body and mind.
This super-happy novelty story of the Cubs taking over the All-Star Game for me is more about smiling through angst over the effects on the long run. I got my two brains — the logical and the apocalyptic — forming an alliance to empty the glass halfway. And I promise you it’s not fun.MORE NEWS: Person Hospitalized Following Shooting On I-290
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.