- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- Despite the withdrawal of 15 players from the All-Star rosters in recent days, union chief Michael Weiner told ESPN.com Sunday that this year's mass All-Star exodus is more about "circumstance" than an indication that players don't care about the All-Star Game.
"I think what you're seeing this year is just a bunch of individual circumstances that have added up," Weiner said before Sunday's Futures Game. "I think players understand the importance of the All-Star Game to the fans. They understand the honor it is to participate in the All-Star Game. By and large, I think players are excited to participate in the game. I just think we happened to have a series of circumstances this year, including a lot of Sunday starters, that have led to this situation."
Of the 15 players who withdrew, five are starting pitchers who started Sunday and therefore were ineligible, according to the rules, to pitch in the All-Star Game. A sixth All-Star pitcher, Matt Cain, was also scheduled to start Sunday night. So he, too, will have to be replaced.
However, the remainder of the withdrawals came as a result of injuries. What raised eyebrows around the sport was that, of that group, only four of those injured players -- Jose Reyes, Shane Victorino, Chipper Jones and Jon Lester -- are currently on the disabled list. And Lester was added Sunday, only as a technicality, because he was next in line in the player voting, so he had to be selected, despite his unavailability to pitch, to replace Felix Hernandez (who started Sunday for Seattle).
In particular, the withdrawal of three marquee names for the Yankees -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera -- has been a source of consternation among executives for other clubs and among fans. But the union is satisfied that A-Rod and Rivera have legitimate health issues, and Jeter just came off the disabled list.
"Derek Jeter is as great an ambassador for this game as we've seen in a long time," Weiner said. "I don't think anybody can really question Derek's commitment to the game or, frankly, to being an All-Star."
Rodriguez has elected to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight meniscus tear in his right knee, a team spokesman confirmed Sunday. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Players who withdraw from the All-Star team after being selected still qualify for their bonuses, regardless of whether they play in the game or show up for the festivities. But Weiner defended the awarding of those bonuses, even for players who skip the event entirely, saying those clauses should not be tied to participation in the game or the ceremonies that surround it.
He said all award bonuses -- not just All-Star bonuses -- are not intended to reward players for promoting the sport but to reward them for how well they've played. Baseball rules prohibit the awarding of bonuses tied to any statistic other than at-bats, plate appearances, games pitched or innings pitched. So an All-Star bonus, Weiner said, is "a recognition that you performed at a level that was worthy in some fashion. You can't say, 'You won X number of games' or 'got so many RBIs.' So making the All-Star team is one of the ways you can do it."
While Weiner is aware of the undercurrent of unhappiness about the high number of players who asked to be replaced, he insisted again that this is not an indication that players don't care about the All-Star Game.
"If you look at it over a period of time," he said, "players for the most part want to participate in the All-Star Game. They want to be here. Look at the number of guys who can't play but still come, whether it's the starting pitchers or a Jose Reyes. So I think it's still a big deal. ...
"I think if fans watch the players who are here, they'll see how much they enjoy being here, how much they enjoy seeing their fellow players who are the best players in the game. Watch them in the Home Run Derby. Watch them during any of the pregame events that deal with the history of the game. Again, if I thought there was a drop in interest among players in the All-Star Game, that would be a concern. But I just don't see that."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.