Major League Baseball’s 82nd All-Star game will be played in just a few days. The All-Star game, we’re told, is a beloved event that connects baseball fans through the generations, a tradition stretching back to the very first contest held on a July afternoon at Comiskey Park during the waning days of Prohibition-era Chicago. This old story of weepy nostalgia is just a bunch of crap these days. The All-Star game, like many other things in baseball during Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner, is a gimmicky disaster.
Am I being unfair? Yes, I probably am. But I must say that I’m not much of a fan of the All-Star game as it exists now, for a couple of reasons:
1. The All-Star game is an historical relic, rendered pointless by technology and interleague play. Sure, back in 1937, the only way you could see players from the Dodgers and Red Sox square off against each other was in the World Series. If you lived in a city with only a National League club, you may never have gotten to see Babe Ruth play, at least not until he was a broken down wreck on the Braves. It made sense to collect all the best players from each club and pit them against the rival league’s best players in one exciting contest; people needed to see how good these guys were! Now, though, we have SportsCenter, Web Gems, 18 interleague games a season, MLB.tv, Wednesday and Sunday night baseball. There are plenty of chances to see the best players in the game, so watching the game isn’t as important, or necessary, as it used to be. Perhaps it still could be interesting if we bothered to put the best players on the field. We don’t bother to do that anymore, but more on that in a minute.
2. It’s a crime that an exhibition game determines homefield advantage in the World Series. This dumb rule was a feeble attempt by baseball to get people interested, to boost TV ratings, in an event that had lost its purpose (see point 1 above) and it’s not working. Pitchers pitch less than two innings in an All-Star game; most hitters only get an at-bat or two. No one wants to be injured. It just can’t be played with the same intensity of a regular game, or even a playoff game; it’s silly to put something important on the line in a game as meaningless as this. There’s a reason why this rule wasn’t in place from the beginning; the All-Star game from its inception was intended as an exhibition.
3. Fan voting is dumb… because fans are dumb. When I first moved to Boston in 2005, I went to Fenway to watch my beloved Mets play the Red Sox in an interleague series. The Mets got smoked in the two games I attended, but that’s not the point of this anecdote. I was so very excited to attend a game in such a storied cathedral of baseball, and to talk to Sox fans, some of the best, most knowledgeable fans in all of baseball (at least, according to the sports media). I started talking to an older Sox fan who sat next to me; eventually we started talking about the best player in baseball.
“I think it’s got to be Albert Pujols.” I said.
“Who?” said the guy.
“You know, Albert Pujols…? From the Cardinals? The Sox beat them in the World Series last year?” I said, and now, in retrospect, wish I could have added something like the following: The man with 160 home runs in his first four years in the league? The man who, if it wasn’t for Barry Bond’s steroid fueled rampage throughout the NL, would have won at least two MVPs in his first four years?
“Oh…” said the Sox fan, “He’s from the NL. I don’t follow the NL. I only follow the Sox.”
That’s when I realized that Red Sox fans are as dumb as the rest of us.
Let me step back a minute… Some fans are most certainly dumb, but most fans of a particular team are better described as partisan. Their team is really all that matters to them. This is why you sometimes hear people calling up New York sports radio and insisting that the Mets should trade the 2011 version of Frankie Rodriguez, Daniel Murphy and a handful of prospects (The Mets have valuable prospects? Ha!) for Tim Lincecum (maybe this example is a little overstated, but you get the point). By opening All-Star elections to fan voting, this natural sense of partisanship guarantees that some players, particularly ones on teams with huge fan bases or ones who are relentlessly slobbered over by the media, will be voted into the game even if their performance doesn’t warrant it. This is how Derek Jeter becomes the starting shortstop for the 2011 American League All-Stars. Here I’ll pause to insert the standard caveat that all Yankee fans demand any time anyone remotely criticizes Jeter: he’s an incredible player, a Hall of Famer, great intangibles, blah, blah, blah, and a bunch of other crap. But for the 2011 season, Jeter should not be an All-Star.
When it comes down to it, fan voting, manager choices, home field advantage in the World Series, and arbitrary mandates (like how at least one player from each team must be represented on a League’s roster) are all just gimmicks trying to bring in a bigger TV audience so advertisers can sell us more Coors Light and boner pills. What’s the solution? I have no idea. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the game should stay this way, so every year people like me can keep writing angry screeds about why the All-Star game sucks so bad. Even after all of my complaints above, I’ll probably at least wind up watching some of the game on Tuesday. If that makes me a hypocrite, I guess that’s fine, but at least I won’t be watching the game and thinking that its some kind of glorious American tradition. I love the game of baseball, but at its heart it’s a business, not a tradition.
That’s why the All-Star game sucks.