Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Is Wrong With The MLB All-Star Game?

      With the 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming up I've been thinking about the problems with the Midsummer Classic. It should be a game the fans of baseball look forward to, but it seems like it is something the fans don't care about. If they see it, then great, if they don't, that's fine too. Why should a game that bring together the best players in baseball be such a non-event? The only thing I can come up with is that are more than a few problems with the game and the selection of players.
       In 1933 Arch Ward the Sports editor of the Chicago Tribune wanted to hold an event to coincide with the 1933 Chicago's World Fair and convinced Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis to assemble teams of the best players in each league to play a one-time game. Landis agreed and the managers of Yankees and A's were tabbed to pick the teams. 20 players out of the 36 on the rosters would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The game was so successful that Commissioner Landis decided to make it a annual game and the baseball fans reacted by coming to the game in droves
      In 1947 fans were giving the chance to vote for the eight position players that would start  (the managers still picked the starting pitchers and the rest of the team). In 1957 fans of the Cincinnati Reds stuffed the ballot box and elected seven Reds as starters, after this incident the voting was taken away from the fans until 1970. Sometime in the 60's the distinction between outfield positions was removed, the thinking being if you have Clemente you can't have Aaron and so on. The players of the early era played hard and wanted to win the game. This could be summed up by the actions of Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game. In the last play of the game Rose was trying to score and came barreling into home, knocking over the catcher Ray Fosse and separating his shoulder. It was those kinds of plays that made the All-Star game such a fan favorite. As the game of baseball became the business of baseball, players became less and less willing to play in another game in a long season and as player interest began to wane so did the fan's interest. Players started thinking of baseball as a business and of their bodies as an integral part of that business. It is also the reason players started moving from team to team following the money, because they realized they have a short window to earn the big money baseball provides. Players also realized that the three days off for the All-Star break is something they wouldn't get if their elected to the team.
       The Major Leagues tried to do things to increase fan interest. In 1985 baseball started the Homerun Derby to spark fan interest and it worked for a while but soon the players started declining the invitation because they would rather have the extra day off. Since 1999, the All-Star Futures Game has been held during All-Star Week. The two teams, one consisting of young players from the United States and the other consisting of young players from all other nations, are usually chosen based on prospect status in the minor leagues. Since 2001, the Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game pits teams with a mixture of former stars from the host team's past, as well as celebrities from music, film, and television. This game is held the day before the Home Run Derby. Soon other things started to pop up to lower fan interest in the game. In 1998 MLB introduced Internet voting, allowing fans to vote up to twenty times from each e-mail address they have, this also led to "ballot box stuffing" and a further decline in fan interest. Another factor would be the lack of respect the press has for the All-Star game. The reason the press doesn't view the game as important is the selection process. The fact that fans vote for the starters and it turns out be be more of a popularity contest then a true vote on the best players of the year. If that process is changed the press might get behind the game and if they get behind it then fan interest might increased. The 2002 incident really put the game to shame, the 2002 All-Star Game, held in Milwaukee, ended in controversy when the teams ran out of substitute players and relief pitchers. At that point, Commissioner Bud Selig declared that the game would end after 11 innings, and it ended in a 7-7 tie. The crowd booed and threw beer bottles onto the field, and the media were highly critical of this unsatisfactory conclusion. This combined with the continued lack of interest from the players led to a all time low in fan interest.
      In an attempt to raise the stakes for the players and get them to play like the game meant something, Major League Baseball reached an agreement with the players union to award home-field advantage for the World Series to the league that won the All-Star Game. Is that something the public wants to come out of a expedition game? I understand the attempt made by baseball to generate player interest but now a whole new can of worms have been opened. Questions can be asked about the way managers, manage the teams. Have coaches made decisions that effect the outcome of the game? Let's take a hypothetical situation; Tigers manager Jim Leyland is coaching the American League team and the Tigers are already out of the playoff picture. Would Leyland, or any other manager, sabotage the game so their American League rivals do not get home field advantage in the World Series? Is the good feelings that come with your league winning the World Series more important then sticking it to your rivals? I would hope not but the enemy you know is worse then the enemy you don't.
      So what can be done to fix the situation? First, I think the fans have to except the fact that baseball is no longer a passion for the players but a business and they believe they need to take care of the tools they make their money with. No matter how much he would like baseball to return to the good old days, it never will, the money is too big and the players too focused on the business rather than the ball. If fans give up the longing for the old days and accept the game the way it is, as an exhibition game between some (but not necessarily all) of the best players in the Major Leagues, the better off everybody will be. We will never see a Pete Rose taking out a catcher, or players sliding hard into second to break up a doubleplay, nobody will get thrown at no matter how many homeruns are hit and players won't sacrifice their bodies to make a play. The players cannot be made to participate or play hard just because the fans want them to. Second, I think the managers need to pick the 32 players that will make up the team and then the fans can vote for the starters. That way the players that deserve to play in the game will and it won't just be a popularity contest or a case of fans remembering who had a good season last year. When players who have been on the disabled list all season are still elected to the All-Star team, how is the game to be taken seriously? Also baseball should do as much as possible to get the best players to play. If it means shortening the season and eliminating spring training games then this would not be such a bad thing. Thirdly, managers need to be told to manage the game like it matters and not just burn through their lineups, no one wants a repeat of the 2002 incident. I understand no manager wants his pitcher to throw too many pitches in a meaningless game but hat doesn't mean one inning and done. Three innings of work for a All-Star starter doesn't seem like too much, 50 or 60 pitches to a pitcher that will throw as many as 120 in a start can't can't be bad, especially with another day off after the game. The Homerun Derby should continue and efforts should be made to try to get as many of the top homerun hitters of the season to compete. All-Star Futures Game and the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game are good ideas and lend a feeling of celebration to the three day event.
      All in all, I enjoy the All-Star game as much as every other game in the Major League Baseball season but I think it needs to be overhauled or it could be eliminated. With all the controversies currently swirling around baseball, the All-Star Game could be something for fans to rally around but unless the issues facing the game are fixed it will continue to be more of a sideshow then a real part of a MLB season.