If issues with the All-Star Game were a league’s only problem, that league wouldn’t have much to worry about.
The annual gathering of top players might lack in most aspects compared to regular contests, but that’s largely unavoidable. There’s no escaping the fact that exhibitions fare poorly against real games.
Major League Baseball was wise to remove the “This Time It Counts” stakes from the All-Star Game, no longer giving the winner home-field advantage in the World Series. Granted, there are better marketing slogans than “This Time It Doesn’t Matter Again.”
But tying real consequences to an otherwise meaningless pickup game wasn’t the answer. It didn’t adequately address the real question:
What should be done to make the ASG better?
Then-commissioner Bud Selig’s solution – the World Series tie-in – was a kneejerk response to the 2002 game, which ended in an 11-inning tie with both teams out of pitchers. It was the second tie ever and the first since 1961. Selig overreacted to the so-called embarrassment of the contest ending in such fashion. It really wasn’t a big deal but he took it more seriously than the Steroid Era.
Making the game “count” made it less fun, a bad tradeoff. Exhibitions are meant for entertainment, not forced drama. Under that format, managers had to hold players in reserve just in case, instead of making sure everyone got in. The games had to be played until a victor emerged, period, no matter how long it took.
In 2008, that meant 15 innings in a brisk four hours and 50 minutes.
Maybe it’s me, but All-Star games that last past 1:30 a.m. ET seem a wee bit excessive.
Tuesday’s outcome was decided in 10 innings when Seattle’s Robinson Cano homered to give the American League a 2-1 victory. All the ingredients from 2002’s deadlock were lining up when Cano took Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis deep to right field. The AL was down to two available pitchers. The NL had three left, including Washington’s Stephen Strasburg who was available for one inning only.
Mercifully, Cano ended the affair with one of the night’s few offensive highlights. There were plenty of strikeouts (23), two homers and a whole bunch of yawns.
That’s the last thing we need, the Midsummer Classic replicating a regular season game.
The most memorable highlight didn’t involve a hit or a catch. It was a “click.” Seattle’s Nelson Cruz strode to the plate for a sixth-inning at-bat and whipped out his cellphone to have a picture taken with umpire Joe West. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina did the honors.
It was a funny, lighthearted moment, added to the All-Star Game list that includes John Kruk feigning a heart attack and Larry Walker switching sides of the plate, both instances against fireballer Randy Johnson.
We could use more levity like that when baseball reaches the break.
More players miked in the field and more dugout interviews. More bat flips, hair flips and/or back flips. Like Cruz’s snapshot with West, they provide entertainment value but only occur when the atmosphere is loose.
“I would bet if the game had counted he would not have done that,” NL manager Joe Maddon told reporters.
There are other ways to make the ASG fun again, too.
If eliminating the possibility of extended play is non-negotiable (really, what’s wrong with a tie?), then steal a page from the World Baseball Classic. Put baserunners on first and second beginning with the 10th inning. Armchair managers would be giddy about the plethora of strategic options.
Also, current rules allow a designated player to re-enter the game after departing. Expand this concept so managers can designate a player to bat out-of-order in key situations. Bases jacked and Bryce Harper batted last inning? No problem. Grab a bat, Bryce!
Another option is to do away with the AL and NL designations altogether. Go East vs. West or USA vs. World. Mix things up. Harper has a terrific idea along those lines.
“It’d be great if we saw, say, the two leading vote-getters, you’d get the list of players that got voted in by the fans and then you do a draft system and you draft both sides,” he told reporters Monday. “So, I could be facing Max Scherzer. I mean, nobody sees that.
“It would be a lot of fun to be able to do something like that, make it a little bit more competition that you’re facing somebody on your team, or something like that, where [Clayton] Kershaw is facing Justin Turner, or Chris Sale is facing Mookie Betts, something like that. That’d be a lot of fun.”
There’s that word again.
With no weighty consequences bogging it down, the All-Star Game has no excuses for a lack of merriment. The more the better.
After all, it doesn’t count for anything. So have some fun!
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.