Baseball’s All-Star Game: a Useless Relic

It’s been a very long time since baseball’s All-Star game was worth watching and looking forward to. In those long-ago days, there was nothing at stake more than bragging rights, but both leagues were serious about winning.

Unless you lived in Chicago or New York in those days, you followed the league your favorite team was in, and never saw the players from the other league in action. You would read about them in the box scores, but that was it.

The All-Star game was your only chance to see the guys from the other league. If you lived in an American League city, the National League was never on TV and you almost never even got a guy in trade from the N.L.  You just never saw them at all. Maybe their league and their players really were better than yours. The only way to find out was at the All-Star game.

Imagine a team like the one the National League fielded in 1960. A few of the guys they ran out for that one: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, and Eddie Mathews.  All on the same team! Almost all in their prime (Musial was 39 at that point). There wasn’t even enough room on their roster that year for the likes of Frank Robinson!

It was a team of supermen. How could anyone beat them? The Americans that year were mostly Yankees: Mantle, Maris, Berra, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, and Bill Skowron, plus the 41-year old Ted Williams, then in his final year (he still managed a .316/.451/.645 season, though!). They actually played two All-Star games that year, one in Kansas City and one on New York, and the Nationals did win them both. But it was a show well worth watching.

That was a long, long time ago. These days, no one really cares about who wins the All-Star game – it’s just an exhibition and nothing more. There are a lot of reasons why, not the least of which is that baseball itself is so boring now. But there are structural and other changes that make the whole thing too silly to bother with now. Here are a bunch of reasons, but I think they’re all symptoms of the same disease, namely too much money sloshing around the sport and too much greed for even more.

Inter-league play is the main reason the game is no longer interesting. I see the guys from the other league all the time, now. I’d actually like to see them less.  The whole idea that it’s a chance to see something I couldn’t otherwise see is lost.

Free Agency has a similar effect.  These days, players move from league to league all the time. No one thinks of himself as a “National Leaguer” any more. The whole concept of “Us” vs. “Them” is lost.

Cable TV – I can see every game of every team all year long if I want. I don’t have to wait for the All-Star game to have a look at some new phenom in the other league. There’s no mystery about what’s happening out of your view, as everything is always in your view.

Fan voting is stupid. The way the teams are selected is meant to promote interest in the game, not produce a side with the best chance to win.

Every franchise has to be represented on the team, even if it means denying a better player a spot. Again, this is supposed to raise fan interest, as you eagerly await the turn of “Your” guy to see what he’ll do.

And this means everyone has to play, whether the situation calls for it or not. Pitchers pitch one inning at most now, and the starting position players are all on the bench by the fourth inning.

Your best squad is not out there when it matters (and even when it doesn’t)  – especially if the game goes into extra innings. The 2002 All-Star game was controversially called a 7-7 draw, when both teams were out of pitchers to use. No player was awarded the game’s MVP. That should tell you all you need to know.

At that point, everyone realized how stupid the whole thing had become, and tried to revive the “meaningfulness” of it all by giving home field advantage in the World Series to the winning side. That idea was dropped this year because everyone understood that, unless you went back to a more serious team-selection and managing format, it was unacceptably random.

The players don’t care about the All Star game any more. The best players, particularly those who have already gone to an All-Star game before, would prefer just to have a three-day break with their family than participate in this charade, possibly risking injury and reducing their future earning power for no real reason. Derek Jeter famously skipped in in 2011 and Mike Trout this year just to name a couple of many examples.

They’ve tried to spice up the whole spectacle with bogus competitions like “Home-run Derby”. Yawn

If you think it hasn’t changed over the years, have a look at this play that ended the 1970 All-Star game in the 12th inning, featuring a guy who wanted to win more than anything – even an All-Star game. Could this ever happen today?

 

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One thought on “Baseball’s All-Star Game: a Useless Relic”

  1. This is the thing: all of us kids of the ’50s and ’60s will never get over how much we loved the game THEN.

    The game – R, H, E, BB, rbi, era, squeeze, in field fly, GR double, and all – is the same game we had (other than the DH, which has always sucked), with longer commercials. Pitching vies with hitting and they tinker with rules. Our problem is that we don’t have the patience we used to have, before the evil internet and other distractions. It’s not just GenXers.

    The NFL takes 2.5 – 3 hours for a 60 minute game. And all the money in pro sports is ludicrous, or not.

    We just don’t love baseball as much as when we were 12. It’s our loss.

    Having said that, the 2004 ALCS is the best fun I ever had. My whole heart was with the Sox and I’m a lifelong Yanks kid.

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