Some Braves critical of All-Star selection process, ESPN’s Puig-mania

PHILADELPHIA – They fully understand the buzz around Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and the desire of many to get the rookie sensation in the All-Star game, but some Braves took exception to ESPN.com openly campaigning for Puig to get the last spot on the National League team.

Puig, who made his major league debut on June 3, and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman are among five candidates for the NL’s “Final Vote” spot to be selected by fans. The others are Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, and Puig’s Dodger teammate, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

On ESPN.com’s website Sunday, a link to the Final Vote story initially urged fans to “Vote him in” referring to Puig, and later said, “He belongs.”

“Nobody has a chance” against Puig for that spot, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “He’s been getting covered since he broke in. And he should be getting covered; he’s an exciting story. But should he make the All-Star team? No, not this year. But he’s going to make it. Which sucks for Freddie and other (Final Vote) guys, because they’ve been doing it the whole year.”

Puig hit .407 with 17 extra-base hits (eight homers) and 19 RBIs in 31 games before Sunday, with a .435 on-base percentage and .683 slugging percentage. In recent weeks it’s seemed as if his every move has been breathlessly chronicled by ESPN.

The Braves’ own rookie phenom, Evan Gattis, heard his name bandied about in All-Star discussions earlier, when Gattis hit .281 with 12 homers, 32 RBIs and a .619 slugging percentage in 43 games during April and May, including four homers in eight pinch-hit at-bats. He’s been on the disabled list since straining an oblique in mid-June.

“I don’t think anybody deserves it for a month,” Gattis said of the All-Star talk. “Even though fans do want to see him play, that’s good for baseball and everything, but I don’t think anybody deserves it after one month. I don’t think I deserved it.”

When a reporter asked Freeman late Saturday about competing with Puig in the Final Vote competition, Freeman smiled and said, “Good luck with that, huh? He’s already on the lede ESPN ticker.”

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was named to the NL All-Star team for the third consecutive season – he’s made it in each of his full seasons – and will be Atlanta’s only representative unless Freeman wins the Final Vote competition (online voting at MLB.com/vote through Thursday) or a Brave is added as an injury replacement.

If not, it would be just the third time in 22 years that the Braves have not had at least two All-Stars.

“I think he’s the best reliever in baseball, and has been since he put on a Braves uniform,” catcher Brian McCann said. “He deserves to be there. I think there should be more guys going from this team, being in first place in the NL East. I think Freddie Freeman deserves to go. He’s carried this team offensively all season long. He deserves to be there.”

Freeman, edged out by St. Louis first baseman Allen Craig for a spot on the All-Star roster announced Saturday, said it was an honor just to be in the Final Vote field. In his third season in the majors, Freeman, 23, was batting .307 with nine homers and a team-high 56 RBIs before Sunday, and ranked fourth in the majors with a .406 average with runners in scoring position.

While teammates believe Freeman belongs in the All-Star game, some also said others in the Final Vote field – including his teammate Gonzalez — were more deserving than Puig due to his brief time in the majors. They saw ESPN campaigning for Puig as unfair when the Final Vote roster spot will be determined entirely by fan voting.

“I think it’s B.S.,” said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who said it was another inherent flaw in the current All-Star selection process. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious what players certain media outlets want to have plugged in. It’s pretty obvious. You have young, exciting players – and they are that. I’m not saying they don’t deserve to have the opportunity to be in there, but these guys that are competing with them to get these last couple of spots, they’re just as deserving.

“It’s not fair. The whole fan vote thing, I think is obnoxious. I mean, the starting players in the All-Star game are determined by fans who can plug any players they want in there, and it determines home-field advantage for the World Series. The World Series!

“It’s not fair. At all.”

Hudson said that as long as the All-Star game is used to determine home-field advantage for the World Series, selecting All-Star teams shouldn’t be a popularity contest.

“A lot of times, the better players are even left off the All-Star ballot altogether,” he said. “And as players, we might have the opportunity to play in the World Series, I think we should determine which starting nine we put out there (in the All-Star game). Our livelihood and our season and our chances to win a World Championship (are affected by) that game.”

Uggla, a three-time former All-Star who was voted to start in the game last summer, said: “If they wanted to start making it matter, they should let the players vote and get the right guys in. But they made it a fans’ game. The fans are going to vote in who they want in. Which is fine. They just need to change that to where this game doesn’t matter. It needs to be fun.”

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