The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is tomorrow (Tues., 7/16) and unless wife Susie has other plans for me I’ll probably be watching on TV, a crossword puzzle in my lap. I’m interested enough to tune in and hope to see something memorable, just as I do every time I watch an athletic event, but I don’t care who wins. It’s an evening’s entertainment, nothing more.
I’d guess that most people feel the same way I do about the game, despite the hype that surrounds it. I’d also guess that many of the participants are less than enthusiastic; if that perception didn’t exist MLB wouldn’t spend money running ads to counter it.
The baseball regular season is long, packing 162 games into about 180 days, and while I don’t feel sorry for men who earn princely salaries for playing a kid’s game I can see where the prospect of a four-day holiday might be more attractive than schlepping off to play an exhibition. The players who aren’t picked have all the best of it.
In brief, I’m asking whether tomorrow’s trip—or that for any all-star game in our major spectator sports—is necessary. While it’s no big deal either way, I suspect we could get along fine without it, or them.
All-star games seem to me to be an idea whose time has passed. Baseball’s version no doubt sounded dandy in 1933 when Arch Ward, the promotion-minded sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, hatched and brought it to fruition. The series got off to a grand start in Comiskey Park in Chicago with a 4-2 American League victory sparked by a home run by Babe Ruth, who always rose to the occasion. It’s been held every season since except for the war year of 1945. During four seasons – 1959 through 1962—there were two all-star games, although I can’t imagine why.
The game made sense in the pre-TV dark ages because it brought some of baseball’s stars within reach of fans who otherwise never might see them. The same held true to a lesser extent until 1997, when interleague play began. Now, with an odd number of teams (15) in each league, there is interleague play almost daily, and thanks to the miracle of MLB’s Extra Innings package (to which I subscribe), every game that’s televised anywhere is televised everywhere. I live in a National League city but with a click of my remote any night I can watch Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera play in games that count in the standings. The All-Star Game can’t offer that.
The business about counting also has occurred to baseball’s honchos. Their epiphany came in 2002 when the game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings because the two managers ran out of subs. Boos and beer bottles rained upon the field in Commish Selig’s home town of Milwaukee, and he responded by decreeing that henceforth the league that wins the All-Star Game would have home-field advantage in that season’s World Series, instead of alternating it by year as before. I like Bud, and think he’s been a pretty good commissioner, but that was dumb. Maybe if the ’02 game had been played elsewhere he might have reacted differently.
Even with something at stake participant zeal for the game often is lacking. Every year a few players beg off, pleading injury, and managers routinely shuffle their pitching rotations so that pitcher-selectees work the Sunday before the game and thus may not be deemed fit for duty on all-star Tuesday.
Putting a question mark on the whole affair is a hokey election system that encourages repeated balloting; when I read that a player has received, say, 6 million fan votes I figure it’s more likely that 6,000 people voted for him 1,000 times each than 6 million picked him once. This month I voted several dozen times on the MLB web site, and I was just fooling around.
Baseball being a non-contact sport at least allows it to stage a real game between its top players; in our other big leagues injury risk dictates that only half a game (offense) ensues. The worst charade is in football, where the annual NFC-AFC contest is played after a typically brutal season from which no one emerges unscathed. Player defections are numerous, rules changes include no blitzing and legal intentional grounding, no one cares about the outcome and participants seek mainly to escape in one piece. Of the 2012 contest one reporter wrote that the two sides “hit each other as though they were having a pillow fight.” Commissioner Goodell threatened to cancel the series after that one, but relented. He should have stuck to his guns.
The NBA All-Star game is a three-day rappers’ convention capped by a game whose only suspense centers on whether the two teams together will top 300 points (they did in 2012, 152-149). NHL star fests run to 12-10 scores in which goalies are changed after each period so none should suffer shellshock. It is to laugh.
Players like the honor of being selected for the games, so the elections could continue even if the games don’t. They can do just about anything with electronic games these days so maybe they could program ones around the lineups and put the results on TV. Then the players could watch from the comfort of their homes, like we do. After a couple of years no one will notice the difference.