Jeff Shaw deserved a better All-Star break. He has earned recognition, and what he got was rest.
Baseball's most extravagant exhibition game inevitably excludes some excellent players, and Shaw is among this year's more glaring glossovers. The Reds' reliever is arguably the game's most efficient pitcher of 1997 - his 1.49 earned-run average is the lowest among guys who have worked at least 50 innings - yet he didn't rate a spot on the National League roster announced Wednesday.
It might have seemed an outrage had Jeff Shaw been the slightest bit outraged. But he was hard-pressed to even feign frustration. What some ballplayers would have considered a cruel snub, Shaw regarded with a heartfelt shrug.
There will be other years, he said, and besides, he had other plans.
"I'm going to Kings Island one day," Shaw said after the Reds' 7-4 conquest of the Milwaukee Brewers. "My birthday's on the 7th. And I think we're going to Deer Creek State Park. It's going to be a good four days."
A day with his son
Shaw would have preferred to pass the time in Cleveland, taking bows and befuddling batters, but he is also eager to test The Beast and The Vortex with his 7-year-old son, Travis. Baseball dads don't get many days off during the summer, so they tend to see the All-Star Game as a mixed blessing. It is a great honor, to be sure, but it is also three more days away from home.
"It's a privilege to go to that game," Shaw said. "From a personal standpoint, it's probably better than winning the World Series. But it's not that important to me. Winning ballgames here (with the Reds) is the important thing."
At this, Jeff Shaw has been superb. With two victories and 16 saves, he has figured directly in half of the Reds' 36 victories. He has enabled his club to stay close in the National League's Central Division despite the potentially devastating loss of incumbent closer Jeff Brantley.
If he is not an All-Star, he has nonetheless been brilliant. Relief pitchers are often overlooked in the casting of All-Star teams, which seems strange given the game's tendency toward cameo appearances. Relievers are accustomed to working one maximum-energy inning, to cleaning up another's mess, to pitching as needed instead of on a particular day. Still, starters dominate the staffs.
American League President Gene Budig and Yankees manager Joe Torre chose only two relievers for Tuesday's game: Baltimore's Randy Myers and New York's Mariano Rivera. San Francisco saves leader Rod Beck is the sole National League fireman.
Because the rules require that every team be represented at the game, the numbers at different positions are sometimes dependent on finding worthy candidates on weak clubs. Thus the dreary Philadelphia Phillies, who last season supplied reliever Ricky Bottalico, are this year represented by underwhelming starter Curt Schilling (9-7, 3.46 ERA).
Though he is presently on the disabled list, shortstop Barry Larkin acts as the obligatory Red. Those players elected as starters through the fan balloting do not have to be active in order to count for their club. Even if Larkin chose to forgo a ceremonial role in Cleveland, the National League would not be compelled to replace him with a Cincinnati player.
Larkin had feared he might be seen as selfish for taking a spot that might have gone to a Reds teammate. Yet he has no assurance that Atlanta manager Bobby Cox would not have replaced him with his own reliever, Mark Wohlers, or any number of other players, instead of Shaw or Sanders.
"There's no way he (Larkin) is the bad guy," said National League Vice President Katy Feeney. "He should not have any heat on him. It's out of his hands. If there's any heat, it should be on the league."
Whatever heat arises from this All-Star Game will have to come from some source other than Jeff Shaw.
"I'm not upset," he said. "It would be a great honor to make it, but you never know from year to year. Next year, I might have better numbers."
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