Will stars align for Angels?
With the All-Star Game in Anaheim next month, team is hoping it can represent well
After Jered Weaver carved up the Chicago Cubs for seven innings Saturday, Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd -- an émigré from the American League West -- called Weaver "one of the best pitchers around who no one knows about."
That could soon change.
Weaver stands a good chance of being selected to the American League All-Star team, which will try to extend its streak of domination over the National League to 14 games on July 13. It's not just any All-Star Game. It's being played in Anaheim, at Weaver's home stadium, about 50 miles from where he grew up in Simi Valley.
If Torii Hunter makes the All-Star Game, he'll be faced with a dilemma: If invited, does he participate in the Home Run Derby? Some hitters have blamed the contest for distorting their swing and sending them into second-half tailspins. The Angels' Bobby Abreu won the contest in 2005 with a record-setting performance at Detroit's Comerica Park, then hit .260 with only six home runs in the second half.
In retrospect, he doesn't blame the made-for-TV event for his second-half slump, though he does remember how stressful it was stepping up to the batter's box with a packed house and a live TV audience watching your every move.
"I'm going to tell you, my first swing I was shaking, my legs were shaking I was so nervous," Abreu said. "As soon as I hit the first homer, it was a relief and then I kept it going. After that, I didn't even control it. You're in a situation where everyone expects you to hit a homer every time. You don't want to disappoint anybody."
The Angels' Vladimir Guerrero won the derby in 2007 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Manager Mike Scioscia said watching Guerrero showed him how grueling the contest can be on hitters, but that he wouldn't forbid one of his players from taking part. The league could put pressure on Hunter to participate, so the contest has a hometown representative.
"I think there's history each way," Scioscia said. "Some players have no problem with it. Some players, maybe, have a little trouble getting their swing back."
-- Mark Saxon
The potential for national exposure is vast. The demands on Weaver's time would be almost equally in demand.
But Weaver isn't making mid-summer plans just yet. His seven wins are good for an 11th-place tie in the AL. Despite leading baseball in strikeouts, he might need to win at least two more games to convince New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pick him.
"I got my hopes up last year and it didn't quite work out," Weaver said. "I'm just going to take it game by game and whatever happens, happens."
Player introductions could be a slightly embarrassing moment for the host Angels next month since there is a chance they will have only one of their players selected. Normally, baseball's worst teams have to content themselves with a single All-Star. It hasn't happened to the Angels since 2006, a lost season, when Vladimir Guerrero was their lone representative.
Meanwhile, the game could be a parade of former Angels: Guerrero, now with the Texas Rangers, is a lock at designated hitter; the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, despite a slow start, has received more than 1.2 million votes, putting him right on Justin Morneau's heels for the starting first-base spot; Atlanta's Troy Glaus' 55 RBIs lead the American League and John Lackey's eight wins for Boston are tied for fourth in the AL.
The closest thing to a lock for the Angels is Torii Hunter, who is batting .298 and ranks sixth in the league in RBIs (50). But he's competing for a spot against the Toronto Blue Jays' Vernon Wells and the Chicago White Sox's Alex Rios are both having All-Star caliber seasons as center fielders. The Fox promotional ads feature Hunter's smile, so his omission would be another publicity blow for the Angels.
Manager Mike Scioscia is adamant Hunter should be there.
"Torii's absolutely [an All-Star]," Scioscia said.
Being a member of the host organization can be an exhausting experience. In 2004, Roger Clemens was that guy, ushering visitors around his hometown into the wee hours of the night. Some people think it contributed to his poor showing on the mound. He gave up six runs in the first inning. If anyone has the personality to pull it off, it might be Hunter.
He's willing. He said he'd be "overjoyed" to participate in the festivities, whether Girardi -- or the players -- pick him or not. Hunter is not in the running in fan balloting so far.
"The All-Star Game doesn't come around [to a stadium] but, what, every 20 years? It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in front of your fans," Hunter said. "I saw it with Albert Pujols last year. You're standing on that line, they call your name and the fans go crazy. I was like, 'Wow, that's a hell of an ovation.' "
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.