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updated: 7/13/2013 7:18 PM

Longing for those old starry nights

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  • Matt Thornton was a solid relief pitcher for the White Sox, but it was time to trade him, according to Matt Spiegel.

      Matt Thornton was a solid relief pitcher for the White Sox, but it was time to trade him, according to Matt Spiegel.
    Associated Press

 
 

The All Star Game is an event completely at odds with itself.

Does it want to be a freewheeling, fun-first exhibition purely built for fan enjoyment?

Or does it want to be a passionately played game in which the outcome truly matters?

Homefield advantage for the World Series is once again awarded to the league which wins Tuesday night, so clearly the final score has consequences.

But neither the roster construction nor the managerial strategies fit a genuine contest. To wit:

•One pitcher often gets used per inning.

•Benches end up nearly void of unused participants by the eighth inning.

•The best players are usually long gone by some of the night's more crucial moments.

This inner conflict was on display via the fan's five-player vote for the final player. In the National League, a solidly chosen group was led by Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, who won his spot over the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig.

I would have loved to see Puig make the game; there's no one I thought fans would want to see more. But the process worked, the public spoke, and both men received more than the record amount of votes.

The American League's final five was put together by manager Jim Leyland to have only middle relievers. One of the most purely fun, directly enjoyable portions of the hoopla was soured so Leyland could make a point.

With Steve Delabar winning, there are now two middle relievers from the sub-.500 Blue Jays on the A.L. roster.

Yay.

I very much miss when players deeply cared about this game. But that feeling has withered amid rampant free agency, and now daily interleague play.

What's uniquely special about seeing Clayton Kershaw against Robinson Cano when you might see it at the end of the month in Dodger Stadium?

Maybe there exists a way to restore what once was, and have managers handle the game with import.

But this homefield award is a shoddy attempt to reverse engineer the passion back in, and the rest of the process simply doesn't fit.

Some kudos for Thornton:

Goodbye, Matt Thornton.

You deserved more credit than you usually received.

As the first sell-off in what may be a small flurry these next couple weeks, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn sent Thornton to Boston for a 22-year-old, toolsy AA outfielder named Brandon Jacobs.

Thornton's fastball has always been very hard but very straight, and without any breaking ball of consequence, any loss of his usual pinpoint control could end up making him hittable.

And when he was, most notably in a failed attempt to become a closer in April of 2011, the fans turned violent and hated him for the rest of his White Sox days.

Such is the nature of being a late-inning reliever.

But don't forget his straight-up dominance from 2008-10, when he:

•Never appeared in fewer than 61 games ...

•His WHIP never reached 1.1 and ...

•His strikeout-to-walk ratio never went below 4.

Don't forget the splits that made Thornton a unique weapon. He's been nearly as good against righties as lefties over his career.

Don't forget what a huge trade win he was for the Sox in exchange for Joe Borchard in 2003, Don Cooper's immediate and lasting fix of the one-time Mariners' bust, or Kenny Williams' efficient contract that locked him up from 2007-11.

Over eight years, Thornton was in totality a truly great relief pitcher, with a negative WAR only in that troubled 201l.

It was certainly time to trade him, as it is a few other bullpen pieces. Relievers can be found, rejuvenated, and sometimes transformed.

But they usually don't end up as valuable as Thornton.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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