Sunday, July 15, 2007

About Baseball's All-Star Game

(Sabbath Blog #25)

I have loved the Major League Baseball All-Star Game since I was a child.

I was ten years old on Tuesday evening, July 22, 1969, when I walked two houses up the street to Dee Hunter’s grandparents’ house to watch the All-Star Game with him. We had been planning and looking forward to that evening for weeks. You can imagine our disappointment when the game was rained out before a pitch could be thrown. It was rescheduled for the following afternoon. Luckily, since we were elementary school students, we were able to watch the game anyway.

The first All-Star Game from which I actually remember a play is the one from the following year, 1970. The game went into extra innings. Again, since I was an elementary school student out for summer vacation, I was able to stay up late to watch it. The play I remember from that game is the one that everybody remembers: Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse at the plate to score the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning.

I have always looked forward to the All-Star Game. It has always provided a good opportunity to watch the game’s finest players having a good time on a national stage. It’s especially fun to see how excited the younger or first-time all-stars get about being on the same field with some of their idols.

Lately, though, I haven’t been enjoying the game as much. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s part of my own personal middle-age crazy; maybe I’m wondering why some things that I know really don’t matter all that much ever mattered all that much to me anyway. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the game.

Once when I was a teenager MAD Magazine (do kids still read MAD? Goodness, I hope so!) published an article on ways that the game of baseball could be improved. They suggested, among other things, that iron baseballs be used and that the batters should be allowed to keep their bats with them as they ran the bases—and use them in whatever ways they saw fit. Now, I’m not suggesting anything that radical. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a few suggestions on how the Major League Baseball All-Star Game could be improved.

First, stop letting fans elect the starting players. They get it right a lot of the time but for the most part the process is simply a popularity process. I’m sure that every team does what my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, does, and that is to push their players. The official web site of the Braves for weeks encouraged fans to vote for the Braves players who were on the ballot, although very few of them deserved to be in the game. Another problem is that the ballots are set before the season starts. Who knows what rookie or unexpected player is going to have a breakout season? Rico Carty, who played left field for the Braves in the late 1960s, missed the entire 1968 season with tuberculosis and was understandably left off the ballot in 1969. He did play in 1969, though, and he played well; he would end up winning the National League batting title that year. To the fans’ credit, they elected Carty to the starting line-up on a write-in vote. But how often is something like that going to happen? I understand the argument that it is a fans’ game and the fans should have input into who plays. But I say that real fans want to see the most deserving players on the field.

Second, stop trying to make the game count in any kind of significant way. Since 2003, the game has determined which league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage, meaning that that league’s team would host a game 7 if one was necessary. I will say what many, many others have said: the All-Star Game is an exhibition. Exhibitions should not count. One of the things that I always liked about the All-Star game was that it was a more laid-back kind of experience. I could watch it and, while I always root for the National League, I really didn’t have to care who won. It was a game to celebrate great individual accomplishments and to watch great players do great things. To try to make more of it than it that is, in my humble opinion, silly.

Third, stop having the Home Run Derby. It’s boring.

Fourth, stop playing one national All-Star Game and replace it with regional All-Star Games that would be played at minor league stadiums around the country. Imagine the kind of fan interest that could be generated if a National League Eastern Division All-Star Game was played at Lake Olmstead Stadium in Augusta, Georgia. And imagine furthermore the good will that could be generated if 25% of the tickets were purchased and set aside for children from the community. Who would pay for those tickets? How about the players in the Eastern Division who are making more than $10 million per year? Again, imagine the good will that would be created. All of these regional games could be televised on ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, or TBS, so money would be made for baseball.

So, there are four suggestions to improve the All-Star Game. If you have one, I’d love to hear it.

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