Baseball’s Mid-Season Classic is upon us. The finest players from the National League take on the finest from the American League at storied Chase Field tonight. Well, when I say “finest,” I mean the best of those who weren’t injured… Except for the few who opted out… And except for the deserving players that weren’t selected. If the preceding run-on sentence didn’t clue you in, I have some problems with the All-Star game. And I’m hardly alone. The international consensus seems to be that something is missing that has caused it to fall from being the gem of all-star games to near Pro-Bowl territory. If you Google “Ways to Improve the All-Star Game” you will get more hits than the guy who tried planking on I-95 at 8 a.m.
I’ll leave the careful, thoughtful analysis to the fine people at Bleacher Report.
Here, for your reading pleasure, are my completely, 100% serious suggestions to improve the All-Star game:
The Home Run Derby
The Home Run Derby used to be an exciting part of the All-Star break. But it seems to have lost much of its luster. I think the revelation of the pervasive usage of performance enhancing drugs hurt its credibility with many fans. More importantly, Chris Berman is annoying. And, when you think about it, who wants to watch glorified batting practice? Isn’t seeing these sluggers knock one into the stratosphere much more exciting when it happens against a real pitcher in a real situation?
I don’t think baseball should go the route of the other pro sports and have “skills competitions.” Instead, they should have in-game competitions. Players who finish the game leading in certain categories can get lucrative prizes (see “making it count” section, infra). You could even have players compete against each other with “skins game” innings. (If you don’t watch golf just know that term isn’t as dirty as it should be).
The designated hitter used to only be used if the game was played in an AL stadium, but now it is always used. BORING! The arrangement of using/not using the DH may have worked when it was rare for NL and AL teams to face one another, but since the advent of interleague play the novelty of DH/no DH has worn off. Instead, the All-Star game should experiment with some different rules. Why not dust off some rules from baseball’s early days? And no, I don’t mean re-instituting the “gentleman’s agreement.” For example, until the late nineteenth century, a runner could be put out by “plugging” him with the ball. Meaning that rather than throwing the ball to an infielder to apply the tag, fielders could just hurl the ball at the runner’s legs, back, or head. I can’t think of why that rule was changed.
The Selection Process
The confounding way players are selected for the All-Star game is the biggest lightning rod for criticism of the game. And rightly so. You have a combination of fan voting, player voting, manager picking, and even more fan voting, plus a rule that every team has to be represented. The result is that no one is ever satisfied with the players chosen. The problem is that every possible method of selection has its flaws:
Fans- ignorant, front-running homers.
Players- ignorant, front-running homers.
Managers- ignorant, front-running homers.
Baseball writers- bitter, ignorant, front-running homers.
With all of those gross generalizations in mind, what is the best solution? You have to turn to people who know baseball the best: fantasy baseball players.
Why would we leave something as important as selecting All-Stars to people who spend all of their time playing or writing about baseball? Fantasy baseball players spend all of their time not just watching baseball, but absorbing it. They watch games they should have no interest in, they analyze mundane player data, they write John Kruk hate mail. Their very existence centers around building the best baseball team possible, all for the glory of snide e-mails to friends and a few hundred dollars (at best). Conduct an analysis of all the online fantasy baseball leagues in the land and get a picture of which players are the most sought after and which players are being started most often and you begin to get a picture of who are, truly, the most valuable players.
Making it Count
Back in 2003, Major League Baseball attempted to address player and fan apathy towards the All-Star Game by “making it count.” The league that wins the All-Star game secures home field advantage in the World Series. I think I speak for everyone when I say that was a terrible idea and Bud Selig’s statue should be defaced because of it.
At any given moment in the game there are only a handful of players who realistically have a shot at playing in the World Series. The rest aren’t that excited about playing for league pride. And partially hinging the result of your championship on a midseason exhibition game is Casey Anthony stupid.
MLB had the right sentiment that the key to enhancing the game is enhancing player interest in the game. The best way to do that is crazy incentives for being selected, playing well, and winning. In addition to having in game competitions with lucrative prizes, the winning team should get something more than pride and a pat on the back from Bruce Bochy. Money is the easy and obvious answer, but that’s boring. I think bowl games and award shows have the right idea by rewarding participation with obscene amounts of swag. Baseball is America’s game. Feeding on players’ greed to get them to plug other players enthusiastically would truly be the American way.