In his 19th and final season, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is having a typically excellent year.
His 16 saves are tied for the major-league lead, one of several reasons the Yankees are the surprise of the early season with a 25-15 record (as of May 16) and a two-game lead in the AL East. He has a 1.56 ERA in 18 appearances thus far. If that holds up, it would be the third-lowest mark of his career.
Rivera will surely be named to his 13th American League All-Star team this year. Not only does his performance deserve the honor, of course, but it would be fitting tribute to the game's greatest closer.
But could Rivera's last All-Star appearance gain even more significance? What if he was asked to be the starting pitcher for the AL on July 16 at Citi Field, in the city — if not the actual ballpark — where he became an iconic figure?
That's what Bill Chuck of Billy-Ball is proposing. (The effort is fueled by the Twitter hashtag #StartMo.) Forget saving Rivera for the ninth inning. Begin the game with him, when the spotlight is at its brightest and the largest audience is tuning in.
It would be a bold, splashy decision sure to draw even more attention to the 84th All-Star Game and likely result in bigger ratings for the FOX telecast.
Starting Rivera would ensure that he actually appears in the game, rather than be held back for a save opportunity that might not develop. And a precedent has arguably been set for such a move, when Alex Rodriguez switched positions with Cal Ripken in the 2001 All-Star Game, allowing the Orioles great to play the position at which he established his Hall of Fame career.
Yet while I agree that this would be a nice gesture by AL manager Jim Leyland and MLB, I believe it's the sort of thing that calls into question whether or not the All-Star Game is an exhibition or a competitive endeavor with something actually at stake.
Commissioner Bud Selig would have us believe that the All-Star Game is meaningful. "This game counts," and all that. The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
However, the Midsummer Classic is undoubtedly a showcase for baseball. Fans select the starting lineups. Every team gets at least one representative on the rosters. Managers attempt to make sure each player gets into the game. Those factors don't typically result in the best team being on the field.
Starting Rivera would be yet another example of this.
Would he be the best pitcher to start against the National League? What about Justin Verlander? Yu Darvish? Clay Buchholz? Felix Hernandez? Don't any of those pitchers — or several other candidates — deserve to get the starting nod? Some may never have such an opportunity again.
Pitching Rivera at the beginning of the game also doesn't represent what he's done so well over his 19 seasons. Doing the long warm-up in the bullpen as starting lineups are introduced is different from his usual routine of getting ready during the game and coming in for the ninth inning.
Yes, I realize this is an All-Star Game. Plenty of players will be asked to do things outside of their normal responsibilities. Whomever bats leadoff likely won't be accustomed to that role. A cleanup hitter could be batting in the eighth or ninth spots of the batting order. A starting pitcher will come in to pitch relief.
But Rivera closes games. He's done it better and more often than anyone in the history of the game. That's what he should do in the All-Star Game, even if the roster will include many other relievers capable of taking that role, if necessary.
Getting the final out and making that victorious handshake — regardless of whether or not he earned a save — should be reserved for Rivera. He's the best guy for the job.
I'm not sure the comparison to what A-Rod and Ripken did in 2001 really applies here either. Rodriguez gave up his position, deferring to a legendary shortstop.
Maybe it wasn't entirely A-Rod's decision. Maybe his AL teammates and MLB asked him to consider the move. It looked spontaneous, though Rodriguez had likely consulted with AL manager Joe Torre about making the switch. A-Rod was paying homage to one of his heroes, right there next to him. It might be the most well-regarded thing Rodriguez has ever done on the field.
Rivera doesn't need to be paid more tribute. He'll earn his 13th All-Star appearance on merit. This isn't San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn being named an honorary All-Star in 2001, so he could get one last hurrah from the game and its fans during his final season.
The Yankees closer wouldn't be named to the team purely on name recognition and career acknowledgement, as MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby suggested should happen with Rivera's teammate Derek Jeter, who hasn't played a single game this season because of an ankle injury and almost certainly wouldn't be able to participate in the All-Star Game.
There would be nothing cursory about Rivera being one of the AL's 2013 All-Stars. So why add something superfluous to the honor, even if he might deserve the ceremony that would come with a starting nod in baseball's showcase event? I would even argue that it misrepresents Rivera, who's been as no-frills and understated as an all-time great player could be.
Chuck's idea is an intriguing one and he lists several compelling reasons in support of it. Kudos to him for not only coming up with a way to pay tribute to one of his favorite players, but also proposing some creative and different for an All-Star Game that could use a little more spice.
But if the All-Star Game is really supposed to mean something, if it's really supposed to count, then it should be played as a real baseball game would be when something is at stake. Yankees manager Joe Girardi wouldn't start Rivera in his final regular season game, just so he could appear in the game and get an ovation from fans.
The same standard should apply at Citi Field on July 16.