2012 MLB All-Star Game: The Big Four All-Star Games, the Good and Bad of Each
As we prepare for the 2012 installment of the Midsummer Classic, some would argue that America's pastime provides the finest All-Star contest of all the "Big Four". It counts, right? Yes, but you won't have a tie in the other ones, will you? True, but everyone gives it their all and competes, don't they? Well, you can say that for every game except for... OK, OK, OK.
There are pros and cons to every All-Star Game. Let's look at why each of these exhibitions make us watch and make us question why we watch at the same time. This is not an evaluation of the weekend festivities. This article outlines what I believe is the good and bad about each actual All-Star "game".
NFL Pro Bowl, the Good: The Rosters Are the Best
In the Hawaiian soiree we call the Pro Bowl, it's practically a midwinter, tropical vacation for everyone who is selected, except for the select few players that have one more week of work. Like every professional All-Star game, the fans vote for the starters.
However, whether it is because there are more players to choose from, or because there are only so many games to make an impression, the NFL seems to have the best of the best every year. When I say best of the best, I mean it. I believe the Pro Bowl succumbs to the popularity contest voting the least. The players that represent the NFC and AFC earned their way there. That means a lot to the players that are selected.
NFL Pro Bowl, the Bad: The Rules and the Effort
There is no blitzing. The defense has to play a 4-3 the entire game. The offense cannot have three receivers on one side at any time. Offensive lineman can't double team on a pass rusher. All these ingredients make up a slow-motion, foosball version of the cha-cha slide. Nobody wants to block, tackle or play defense. There are more laterals in this game than for three seasons combined.
In all seriousness, I could grab 13 buddies, declare "7-Mississippi", four downs to score and one-hand touch. We would play with more effort and energy than these guys. Yes, your bodies are beaten up after the arduous season. Yes, you want to relax. However, last time I checked, football is a contact sport, especially at the professional level. If you don't want to contact each other, just go to Hawaii for a few days, boogie board, get a tan, and go back home.
The commish is committed to the game, or whatever it's called now, for one more year. If last year's walkthrough was any indication, the NFL's best should just schedule some tee times in Miami the week before the Super Bowl instead of wasting everybody's time.
NHL All-Star Game, the Good: The Fantasy Draft
A bunch of us kids get together for a game. What's the first thing we do? Choose captains and pick teams. Your talent and popularity is based purely on when you're picked. You're the man if you're gone first. On the other hand, nobody wants to be the last man standing.
In order to increase the popularity and focus surrounding the NHL and its show of stars, Gary Bettman decided to try the same device that has been used on playgrounds around the world. Hence, the All-Star Fantasy Draft was born. The fans select the captains and the pool, then the captains do the rest. They could pick a teammate, a rival, a fellow countryman, or somebody they absolutely hate. However, just like on the playground, they choose the best of who's left. All in the name of winning a game.
If they could only institute those other playground rules. You know, whoever gets first pick, the other team gets the puck first. If a team scores the first five goals, it's "domination" and re-pick teams.
NHL All-Star Game, the Bad: The Actual Game...
Basketball has the Slam Dunk and Three-Point Contest. Baseball has the Home Run Derby. Those weekend events are but a precursor for the exhibition of talent to finish the festivities. For the NHL, their All-Star Skills Challenge is the highlight of the weekend, and for good reason. Say what you will about the American popularity of hockey compared to the other three, their skills competitions are the epitome of the word skill.
The breakaway challenge is simply "mano a mano". Hitting little targets with a little puck in six to seven seconds is pretty impressive. And after all that fun on Saturday night, fans arrive at the arena on Sunday afternoon to watch a not so polarizing sport. Not that many more people watch the game on television. No matter how the NHL tries to serve up their exhibition, the fact is "it's hockey". This game may never pony up to the other games, which doesn't necessarily matter to the sport or its fans. They will enjoy it either way.
NBA All-Star Game, the Good: 48 Minutes of Entertainment
Basketball is the most fast-paced sport of the four. The NBA has the best, brightest, and most athletic stars. Throw 24 of them on the court for one night, and that equals a recipe for excitement.
From the opening tip, the NBA All-Star Game is a hodgepodge of no-look, behind-the-back passes, with flashy, rim-shattering alley-oop dunks, and is the only contest in which behemoths Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard can take 26-foot jumpers with nobody getting testy (sorry Andrew Bynum, you still can't). What makes it all worth it is the last 12 minutes. Whatever the lead is at the beginning of the third quarter, you can almost guarantee that it will shrink by the end.
Both teams treat the last minutes of this exhibition like a playoff game. Ego and bragging rights takeover. It's a game after all. And what is the point of every game? To win. Beginning to end of the NBA All-Star Game is filled with high drama, which makes it one of the best.
NBA All-Star Game, the Bad: There's Only One Ball
The worst thing about the NBA All-Star Game is that there's only one ball to go around. During a regular season contest, a regular team has two or three guys that can average 20-plus points a game. However, in the All-Star Game with the NBA's best, everyone on the court averages 20 at the very least. That means you better get your shots when you can. There's no telling when you will get the ball again.
This problem also can be aggravating for the coaches. It's their job to divide the playing time as fair as possible, and trying to win the game at the end. There have been a few occasions in which players have complained about not playing much, see Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker in 2003, which was Michael Jordan's last. But, for the most part, everyone seems content either being on the court trying to score 30 or being on the bench watching LeBron, Durant and Co. put on a show.
MLB All-Star Game, the Good: This Time It Counts
In 2003, the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. The Marlins clinched the title on the road, in Yankee Stadium, in Game 6. However, the Yankees didn't depend on their record for home-field advantage during the Championship. They were awarded the advantage because Hank Blalock hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth of that year's MLB All-Star Game.
Whichever league wins the Midsummer Classic wins home-field advantage for the Fall Classic. This format has been fairly successful for the victors. The league representatives for the winning squad are 6-3 in the World Series. Only one Series since 2003 has gone to a seventh game. Only twice has the team with the worse record gone on to win the trophy.
The fact that this game matters definitely puts it apart from the other three leagues' contests. The aftermath of the game has mattered a little, but not a lot. The prize definitely takes the level of competing to a whole new level. That's all you can ask for out of an exhibition game. When there's something to play for, it brings the best out of everyone.
MLB All-Star Game, the Bad: A Tie?
Somebody has to win the game right? Not in 2002.
The All-Star Game in Milwaukee that year was exciting. The game went back and forth. Torii Hunter made an amazing catch to deny Barry Bonds a home run. All the fans were looking forward to seeing a winner. However, after 11 innings, Bud Selig disagreed.
The commissioner's decision to declare the 2002 MLB All-Star Game a draw was much maligned, with chants of "Let Them Play" engulfing the air inside Miller Park. However, I suppose it wasn't all that bad. With the addition of one more roster spot for each squad, along with the future decision to make the succeeding All-Star Games count, the quandary in 2002 turned out to be a blessing in disguise.