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Infante's value combines a little of everything


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It was shocking when it was announced Sunday that Braves utility man Omar Infante, who was tied for 167th in the National League in OPS, had made the All-Star team ahead of, among others, Joey Votto, who was leading the NL in OPS. Even Infante thought it was a joke. How can you make the All-Star team without starting for your team?

To place all the blame on Infante is preposterous. To ridicule him is unfair. He has done nothing wrong. He is who he is: a 28-year-old utility guy, "a good player," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. Infante is hitting .305 this season. He has played second base, third, shortstop, left field and right field. In the post-steroids era in which teams are looking for new ways to score runs, and defend better, every team has someone like Infante, but most teams don't have anyone who does what he does as well as he does: play the middle infield and the corner outfield whenever called upon, and get a hit coming off the bench in a key spot.

If there is blame to be assigned, blame Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who will manage the NL All-Stars. But Manuel's motives were pure and understandable: He needed a backup shortstop, and now that the All-Star Game counts, and now that there's a re-entry rule, Infante is the perfect guy to keep available until the late innings in case a defensive replacement is required in the infield or the outfield, or a pinch runner is needed. If there's blame to be assigned, blame Major League Baseball. It could have determined that each team must select a utility player in case a team ran out of players, as happened in the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee when the game was called a tie after 11 innings.

Infante is going to the All-Star Game. He shouldn't have to apologize for that. This is his eighth major league season for Detroit and Atlanta, he has a career .267 average and a reputation for doing whatever it takes for his team to win. He will now have one more All-Star appearance than Kirk Gibson, but Gibson has one more MVP, and Infante will join Omar Vizquel as the only players named Omar ever to make an All-Star Game. Let him enjoy it.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight"

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