As Major League Baseball gears up the All Star Game, another round of columns, blogs, and radio podcasts will also gear up. As we look at the game whose unofficial tagline is, “This Time It Matters (No, Really),” the more we realize that not only does it not matter, but that there are ways to improve the game.
One of the dumbest concepts of the entire game has to be the fact that the winning league of said exhibition game will be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series. Instead of allowing something like home-field advantage in the most important series of the year, why can’t we do away with the game “meaning” something, and just enjoy it for the exhibition game that it is? Why must it have an impact on the post-season? Why not just have the team, regardless of the outcome of the game, with the better record have home-field advantage, such as with hockey or football playoffs? Why must the game mean something? The Pro Bowl means nothing; the NHL All Star Game means nothing; the NBA All Star game is an offensive onslaught, but still means nothing. If we are going to have a game that means nothing other than combining some of the best players in the game, why can’t we just appreciate the players who we love, the players who are the future of the game, and those out-of-market powerhouses (hey, Buster Posey!) that we otherwise never get to see and simply enjoy it?
On the subject of the game “meaning something,” why is it that every team must have a representative? You honestly mean to tell me that every single team has a player who is worthy of being an All Star? Really. I beg to differ. If the game really mattered, why wouldn’t it be that every single one of the absolute best players are chosen by the managers and executives of the teams: stack your bullpen with the ultimate relievers, or use an exceptional starter as a long man. Take every single big bat you can find, mix-and-match to win. Isn’t the point to insert hustle and meaning into the game? If the game meant that much, why wouldn’t you play to actually win? As it presently stands, having a player from every team represented is more important than having the teams stacked with the best players in order to win the game that determines (again, ridiculously) home-field advantage in the World Series. Why not expand the rosters to include “non-players”? This way, there are the players that are the best that give you the chance to win, while still including representatives for every other team- they just don’t see game action because there are better players available.
To that end, there always seems to be a player who is left off the ballot and is incredibly deserving (I’m looking at you, Brett Gardner, and possibly Yasiel Puig). Why not expand the rosters to 30, as opposed to 25? We already established that the game is not designed to have the best players on the field so much as the most popular (fan vote) and/or making sure every team is represented. Why not have the manager be able to add these five “non-players”, as mentioned above, in order to 1) represent every team and 2) be able to give the not-popular-but-deserving players a chance to be an All Star? Not every single player that develops into a great baseball story or breaks out, period, is a phenom like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig. Why not use this opportunity to showcase deserving, hidden gems that are not flaunted or nationally recognized as those players, but are still terrific players, such as Gardner? If one more kid finds a player that he/she appreciates on another team, and buys that jersey, or follows that player on Twitter, or buys an MLB.com package to watch him since he’s on an out-of-market team- that meets Major League Baseball’s main objective: to grow the game.
Following up on the point about seeing players different players, one of the biggest sagas about this year’s game has to do with one player in particular- Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers phenom who has made a huge impact on the game in just under 40 games. One of the largest criticisms about Puig’s potential All Star nomination has to do with the fact that he has appeared in so few games relative to other players, despite the fact that there is no game minimum necessary to be qualified to appear. Which brings me to this point: why do the All Star ballots get released in April? This year the voting began on April 24. As in, nearly three months before the start of the game. If the game is going to be in the middle of July, why not start the voting in the middle of June, when sample sizes are larger and there is a better understanding of players who will be eligible to play (Derek Jeter led the voting at one point, and he hasn’t played a game for the Yankees since October)?
Any finally: why have an All Star Game, exactly? Does it really grow the game? Does it really draw the numbers? If every team has a represented, if the fans choose the starters, if ratings are down- why bother? Why not just have a three-day break in the middle of the season, as a sort of bye-week for players. Have the Home Run Derby, if you want, or still make a presentation of the players in the various markets, similar to the Fan Fest being held in celebration of the game at New York’s Javits Center (the game is being played at Citifield in Flushing). Think of it as an “ambassador” trip. It might even be more marketable- if the potential is there for fans to meet and greet with players, or get an autograph and a picture, or do batting practice/pitching clinics/etc., it might give a more personalized experience than watching players play an inning or so on TV in a game that’s very premise is subjective enough to not make it matter, despite the impact the result will have. Furthermore, sports like the NFL- the king of American sports- has horrific numbers in a disastrous Pro Bowl event after the season, so awful that Commissioner Roger Goodell is thinking of eventually scrapping the game. Why not instead do the Fan Fest-type events, and have an First-Team, Second-Team, even Third-Team All Stars named (like they do in football or basketball after the season). The playoff rules would follow the situation outlined below.
In the meantime, it’s unlikely that any of these scenarios will ever be implemented. For MLB, if it’s not broken- the fans still somewhat tune in, sports radio hosts debate this player over that for weeks to pique interest, and it boosts exposure for markets- it won’t be fixed. I’m not saying that the game is totally worthless, I just think it needs improvement. Let’s face it, we all love the game of baseball, and would like to see one the best celebrations of the sport actually matter; as presently constituted, it doesn’t. So, what say you, baseball fans? Will you be tuning in? How would you change the All Star Game?