Before I start, I wanted to acknowledge the passing of George Steinbrenner. He was a fun man to hate, and in his defense let it be said that he spared no expense to give his team’s fans a winning ballclub — that’s more than many owners can say. If I go on any more, I’ll veer toward speaking ill of the dead, though, so I’ll move on.
Last night, the National League ended 13 years of frustration with a taut 3-1 victory over the American League in one of the best All-Star games in recent memory. But here’s the question: how many of you, honestly, actually watched the game? I’m guessing less than half.
The All-Star game, once a must-see event, has become at best an interesting exhibition and at worst a pointless, boring, and tedious four-hour affair. Baseball’s All-Star game is still, somehow, the most interesting of all the major sports, but its profile has been falling sharply for years, which is certainly a shame. I want to put forward a few suggestions that I think would help give the All-Star game meaning again without resorting to tactics like World Series home field advantage, which I think cheapens the World Series more than anything else.
This is possibly the biggest one. Explain to me why baseball feels the need to play major games late in the night during the week? Football has become the country’s most watched sport, in no small part because Sunday has become an event — no one is going to make Tuesday night an event, however. How hard would it really be to shift the All-Star game to a Sunday? Make it a Sunday, 6pm start and I’d wager you’d get a larger audience.
In addition, give additional days off around the game. One day before and one or two (depending of schedules) after is simply not enough; one of the things that has made the modern game so tedious is the constant shifting of pitchers and players based on rest, a problem that would be at least partially solved by adding days off before and after the game.
The trend for the All-Star game, especially since the entire baseball world overreacted to 2002’s tie, has been for far greater rosters — this year they expanded once again, to 34 players. The argument here is that it gives fans the chance to see more of their favorite players, and that it allows managers the ability to swap in players without worrying about running out. The real effect, though, is to make the All-Star game seen diluted and meaningless; when there are 34 players on a team, it looks more like a preseason exhibition and less like a serious event. Reduce those rosters to 28 and you’ve got a more competitive game that won’t feature the “play for two innings and then sit in the dugout with your camcorder” feel that the All-Star game has had of late.
Stop Massaging Egos
It used to be that players who were elected as starters played most of the game. I can understand why, for pitchers, that would not be ideal; the science of rest and pitcher stress simply doesn’t allow for it anymore. But position players should absolutely still be given more playing time if they were elected to the team. It would make the game go faster, and provide it with a more seamless feel. As it stands now, fans watching the game get to see individual players for maybe on at bat or play in the field, and spend much of the game trying to figure out who replaced whom and when. Giving the starters more playing time would make it less confusing, and create more of a team atmosphere. The players who weren’t elected still make a damn fine bench, and still get to be known as All-Stars. They can still see playing time, but it should happen later in the game and at the manager’s discretion.
The Selig years have seen an unprecedented centralization in baseball, to the point where the leagues themselves don’t really retain an identity outside of whether or not they use the Designated Hitter. The 1994 strike made free agency an even more potent money maker, increasing player mobility between teams and leagues; interleague play broke down the wall between the leagues that previously was only breached during the All-Star game and the World Series, and the league Presidencies were consolidated by MLB in 1999. This year marks the first year in which the DH will be used in every All-Star game, regardless of location. Having two shells where two distinct leagues used to be makes it difficult for anyone to truly care about the outcome. Ending those practices and reinstating league Presidents would be a start.
Another option would be to do away with the league rivalry altogether. If they mean almost nothing in today’s game, why should they be the centerpieces of this showcase of talent? Why not instead make the game regional? East vs West, North vs South, or even a shortened tournament over two days (5 inning games, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest and a 9 inning final the next day). Another idea would be to follow the lead of the Futures game and play USA vs. World, adding an international flair to a game that has been slow to accept one. That might also allow for the World Baseball Classic to be played during the season in the future, creating a shortened regular season schedule once every four years.
Many of you probably hate much of this, and some of you may even still love the All-Star game as it is currently set up. However, I think most would agree that the game has lost some of the fire it used to have, and that baseball would be better off with an All-Star game that mattered. What are your suggestions?