May 02, 2003
How to make the All Star Game better

So Bud and the boys have gone forward with that silly plan to give home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All Star Game, the idea being that this would somehow make the ASG more competitive (read: "would help improve ASG TV ratings"). The MLB players' union had to buy into it as well, so I guess it's unfair of me to blame this exclusively on management, but it was their idea in the first place.

Not everyone reacted favorably:

"I disagree with it, completely and totally," said Los Angeles pitcher Kevin Brown a five-time All-Star. "I think it just takes away from the whole idea of what the All-Star game is about, which is letting the fans vote and letting it be an exhibition game. Now they're trying to make it into something that it never has been."

Yep. Somewhere along the line, the idea that this midsummer make-believe game had Special Meaning appeared in the public consciousness. Admittedly, last year's tie game fiasco didn't help matters. And yes, baseball's All Star Game really is the only one worth watching (the NBA All Star Game is runnerup), but that's probably because it's the one game that most resembles a real game, if you ignore all of the substitutions. For my money, it's always been an exhibition game, and for that reason I've never really cared one way or another how seriously it's taken.

The intensity of the All-Star Game has lessened in recent years, with increased player movement reducing the allegiance players have to their leagues. Also, managers have become more focused on getting every player into the game than winning it.

"It all depends on what they want: Do they want a showcase? Then do what they've been doing," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "If they want intensity, then have it back the way it was played before, where you see Pete Rose knocking somebody into the stands, and the president of each league coming in and giving pep talks before the game. To me, that's what it's all about -- pride."

This is the key to the whole thing. If you want the ASG to be as intense as a real game, then set the rules to make it more like a real game. If I were in charge of this, I'd take a different approach:

1. First, I'd reduce the roster from 30 (now 32) players to 20. Nine starters (including a DH; more on that in a bit), five backups (one catcher, two infielders, and two outfielders), and six pitchers.

2. Next, I'd drop the rule that each team must have a representative on the All Star Team. You want a high-caliber game, get the best of the best. If Detroit or Tampa Bay doesn't have any worthy candidates, tough luck for them. Maybe next year they'll hire better players.

3. Each team will have a DH. You don't go to the All Star Game to see Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez bat, so why make them? This way, managers can leave starters in longer without having to worry about pinch hitting or double-switching for the pitchers. Besides, I say that one reason why the All Star Game was being taken less seriously was because of the attempt to get everyone into the game. This isn't Little League, people - revolving door substitutions are stupid.

4. Finally, I'd give long thought to dropping the fan vote. Every year, the fans vote in some number of sentimental favorites (*cough* *cough* Cal Ripken *cough* *cough*) and half-season flashes. If the managers are charged with winning this game for some notion of League Pride, let them pick the players. This would cause an outcry, from sponsors as well as fans, but it's the logical thing to do if the point is winning and not simply showcasing popular players.

That's what I'd do if forced to change things. I still don't think any change needs to be made, but if it must be done then there you have it. Checking other bloggers, only David Pinto and Mike Carminati (permalinks bloggered) have weighed in, and neither one cares for this change. So be it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 02, 2003 to Baseball | TrackBack

I agree with what you're saying. We really don't need 12 or more pitchers on a team, and we really don't need to see a representative from each team. In fact, it was common to leave the starters in the game for 4 or 5 innings before the "free agency" era. The only problem with reducing the team size is that there are far too many players with All-Star Game clauses in their contracts that will complain that they shouldn't be penalized for playing on a lousy team.

It was amazing to sit in a hotel room in London last summer and watch the crawl come up on CNN that the game ended in a 7-7 tie. I e-mailed my brother and he explained what happened. That's simply too embarrasing for the sport.

The problem with eliminating the fan vote is that the other sports use the same method of choosing the starting lineups. Also, giving the power to the manager of the team (which is last year's World Series manager) could lead to personal politics deciding who is on the team. The players should vote on the team themselves, since they are the ones most familiar with who should be playing. If Cal Ripken had not made the team by the fan vote the last few years,
Boob Selig would have named him the same way Mario Lemieux and Magic Johnson were named to the all-star teams by their commissioners.

Posted by: William Hughes on May 2, 2003 9:23 PM

Hmph. I always thought the ASG was special because it was a way for the stoopid fans to participate in some way besides just spending their damn money. Eff me, then. Other than that, I think you've got some good ideas. I don't see why they can't take the teams the fans give them and try to win, whether it's 32 or 25 players.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on May 4, 2003 10:40 PM

Scott, I agree with you, and frankly I think the ASG is fine just as it is. Which is why the whole notion of changing it to make it more "intense" is silly. If it's an exhibition game where the fans pick the staring lineup and everyone is supposed to play, then the final score should be nothing more than a footnote. I'm just saying that if something actually hinges on the outcome, then the managers should be given all of the tools to do the job right, and one of those tools is roster construction.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on May 5, 2003 7:48 AM

I wish I had time to blog my thoughts on the "new" ASG, but for me, it's always been an intense exhibition. That's what I wanted, anyway...pride of league and all that. That's gone the way of the dodo, anyway, so I'm just being an old fart.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on May 5, 2003 10:13 AM