It’s been three days since the last regular season game, and I feel like Homer Simpson with no TV and no beer. (“All I need is a title. I was thinking along the lines of… No meaningful baseball on TV makes Alex something, something.”) Back before national television contracts and interleague play, the All-Star Game was one of the only times that fans could see the greatest players from the other league.
But then, back in the old days, some of that was ameliorated by in-season exhibition games and post-season barnstorming. And the best players — Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Willie Mays — played the whole game, because you don’t take Stan Musial out of a game. Especially not for a lame excuse like saying that the game is “for the fans.”
When ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick asked Justin Verlander about his abysmal performance in the Midsummer Classic, Verlander explained that he wasn’t trying to get by with guile. “I know this game means something,” he said, “But we’re here for the fans, and I know the fans don’t want to see me throw 90 [miles per hour] and hit the corners.”
Actually, I’m a fan, and I’d love to see the best pitcher in the league try his damnedest to beat the best players in the other league, rather than just raring back and throwing souped-up straight fastballs because he thinks that’s what people want. We need to revisit what the All-Star Game means, why it matters, and whether we should still have one.
Being selected as an All-Star is a great honor. But, between the fan balloting, ballots from players, selections by the managers, Final Votes from fans, injury replacements, and the requirement that each team have an All-Star — which led to the Marlins complaining that no one selected Justin Ruggiano or Greg Dobbs as an injury replacement for Mike Stanton — it’s hard to say exactly what being an “All-Star” represents.
The All-Star Game has always been a cross between a popularity contest and an exhibition game between the best players in each league. Of course, that means that Verlander’s unwillingness to change speeds cost his league the right to home field advantage in the World Series. The whole point of awarding home field based on which league won the All-Star Game was supposed to make the game more exciting. Instead, it had the opposite effect: it cheapened the World Series.
One suggestion: every fan votes once and the managers pick injury replacements. However, there is no requirement that each of the 30 teams gets an All-Star, and there is no suggestion that every player get in the game. Ryan Braun plays all 9 innings if he’s healthy. This would be a bit more like the old All-Star games.
Or, we could just take the game to its natural progression, decoupling it from the World Series, letting every player play their one inning and then hit the showers, and instruct the pitchers to do what Verlander did: don’t try too hard, because the fans want offense, not defense. This would make it like the Pro Bowl.
Obviously, I’d prefer the first. But let’s acknowledge that the longer we wait to make a choice, the more the game will naturally drift toward the second option. I don’t know which fans this year’s All-Star Game was supposed to be for, but it certainly isn’t for me.