There's no question that Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is better than the All-Star games of the NBA, NHL and NFL. The Midsummer Classic has history going for it, and it's also more fun to watch than the other All-Star games.
So bravo, MLB. I know how much you like to freak out about popularity, so you can hold your heads high knowing that you have the best All-Star game in America.
...But this doesn't mean that Major League Baseball's All-Star experience is perfect. On the contrary, there are quite a few improvements that could be made.
Ahead of you lie 10 ways Major League Baseball can improve the All-Star festivities and the All-Star Game itself.
The closest thing the MLB All-Star Game has to an actual Old-Timers Game is the Celebrity Softball Game.
This is not a good thing. The softball game is good for a few cheap chuckles every year, but on the whole it's a pretty embarrassing spectacle. People like Rollie Fingers and George Brett (pictured) deserve better than to share a field with people like Horatio Sanz (whoever he is).
It would be better if there was a softball game made up entirely of former major leaguers. Naturally, most of them would have to have some ties to the host city. One cool way to play it would be to have a team of the city's old-timers against a team of old-timers from all over.
That would be more fun than the celebrity game, and it would also be bigger treat for true baseball fans.
I'll grant that I'm flexible on this one. If MLB arranges for some actual celebrities to play in the celebrity softball game, I may change my mind.
The Home Run Derby is great, but MLB could stand to show off other talents players may have. There are different ways the league can do this.
Doing a fastest pitch contest is too dangerous, but certainly something like a trick shot competition or an unusual talents competition could be arranged.
The trick shot competition could take after the attached video. Who wouldn't want to see Matt Kemp hit fly balls into a bucket in right center field? Who wouldn't want to watch Prince Fielder smash line drives and random cameras placed around the infield?
The ante could be upped by adding fielding drills to the mix. Which third baseman can make a bare-handed play on a slow roller and then hit a dime suspended in the air with a throw better than all the rest?
If none of this floats your boat, perhaps the unusual talents idea would. Surely Josh Womack isn't the only ballplayer out there who can perform optical illusions with a baseball bat, and no doubt there'd be plenty of players interested in proving who can blow the biggest bubble with a mouth full of Big League Chew.
I'm well aware that all of this sounds pretty silly, but things could be easily classed up a bit with a classical soundtrack, a la 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I'm actually serious.
I have to be honest with you, Kansas City fans. Billy Butler never had any business being in the Home Run Derby. He's more of a doubles hitter than he is a home run hitter.
But I'll admit, I understand why you all were booing. You wanted to see your guy, and there's nothing wrong with that.
You guys just took it too far. Like, way too far.
We can debate the necessity of those boos all we want, but one thing that's for sure is that having that much vitriol in the Home Run Derby just didn't look good. Above all else, the Home Run Derby is supposed to be a fun, happy occasion.
There's no harm in forcing a hometown player into the Home Run Derby. It will make the fans happy, and making the fans happy is of paramount importance where the Derby is concerned. People are already complaining that it's too long.
Besides, it's not like the blasted thing counts.
There's one thing I've always wanted to see happen in the Home Run Derby, and I have a feeling I'm not alone.
How freakin' cool would it be if one of the ball shaggers robbed a home run from one of the contestants?
Pretty cool, am I right? There are few things more exciting than a home run robbery, and watching it happen in a home run contest would be just about the coolest thing ever.
Sadly, the ball shaggers don't seem up to the task. They are too young and feeble. It's apparent that actual ballplayers are needed.
Outfielders from the All-Star teams could either volunteer for the duty or be randomly chosen. If it came to that, I would have picked Mike Trout (pictured here doing something awesome), Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen from this year's All-Star crop.
Another option would be to invite ringers who have no business being at the All-Star Game, kinda like what ESPN did with Sam Fuld when they invited him to protect their set in 2011.
Adding a hometown player to the mix will keep the boos from pouring down. Adding home run robbers to the mix will spice things up.
Bam. I just fixed the Home Run Derby.
Mets fan, how'd you like to hear Howie Rose call the All-Star Game in 2013?
Making sure at least one player from the host city is participating in the Home Run Derby is one way for MLB to sell the local celebration dynamic of the All-Star Game, but it's not the only way.
Another thing MLB could do is reach out to the local broadcasters and work them into the national broadcast of the All-Star Game in some way.
It would be nice if the local guys could handle the entire game instead of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, but that's asking too much. However, MLB wouldn't be asking too much if it asked FOX to allow the local guys to call an inning or two while Buck and McCarver take a break.
In 2013, for example, perhaps Howie Rose could step in and call the action for an inning or two while the game is going on at Citi Field. That would be fun for Mets fans, and it would also be a nice change of pace for everyone out there who can't stand Buck and McCarver (i.e. everyone).
The only time it wouldn't be cool is if the All-Star Game ever finds its way back to U.S. Cellular Field. Hawk Harrelson can sit that one out.
Bud Selig should kill the home-field advantage in the World Series aspect of the All-Star Game.
When Major League Baseball decided to make the All-Star Game determine home-field advantage in the World Series after the 2002 game ended in a tie, the right call was being made.
Something needed to happen. The All-Star Game was getting increasingly silly every year, and the tie that occurred in Milwaukee was the ultimate embarrassment. Ties are for soccer and hockey, not baseball.
As good as the idea sounded at the time, all the various problems with the idea have come to light over the past decade.
It's always been true that having an exhibition game determine something as important as home-field advantage in the World Series makes little sense. Especially when the American and National League teams are not exactly comprised of the best players in either league. The starting lineups consist of the most popular lineups in either league, and the selection of the reserves is also flawed (just ask the Cincinnati Reds).
MLB can tinker with this and that as part of an effort to make the game more fair for both sides, but the league will never be able to please everybody. The easier and the better option is to just ditch the home-field advantage aspect of the Midsummer Classic altogether.
The game could still count, but for something else instead.
For example, MLB could really light a fire under the players' posteriors if they threatened to send the losing team to Japan for a series of exhibition games during the offseason. No doubt the vast majority of players would prefer to stay home, and would thus play extra hard to avoid going.
Regardless of whether the All-Star Game counts, MLB needs to make an effort to make sure that actual All-Stars will be playing in the game year after year.
That means doing something about the fan voting, which is out of control.
This year, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are starting for the National League, and they don't deserve it. Mike Napoli is starting for the American League, and he doesn't deserve it. It can be argued that there are several other starters who don't deserve to be starting, but these are the three who come immediately to mind.
It doesn't matter if the game counts or not. The rosters of the Midsummer Classic should be made up of the best players, not the most popular players. Not every fan pays attention to what's going on in the rest of the league. Fewer pay attention to the stats. Fewer still pay attention to the right stats.
At the very least, what MLB can do is come up with a list of "recommended" starters as a way of keeping fans up to date on which players are actually having All-Star caliber seasons. There also has to be a way to curb the influence of big-market teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and so on.
Taking the voting out of the fans' hands altogether is the best idea, but I realize that MLB can't do that without rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Whatever the solution, something needs to be done to make sure deserving players like David Wright never get cheated.
Judging from the All-Star rosters, the only truly valuable players in baseball are the ones who hit a bunch of home runs and drive in a bunch of runs. A select few earn their bacon by stealing bases.
The All-Star Game doesn't honor baseball's unsung heroes, and that ain't right. A lot of baseball teams would be totally screwed without their utility guys.
Think about it. Josh Hamilton is really good at hitting home runs and he can play both left and right field, but he'd look like a complete amateur trying to field grounders at third base, shortstop, second base or first base.
In other words, he couldn't do what Willie Bloomquist has done throughout his career. He hasn't moved around much lately, but when he was with the Kansas City Royals, he played all over the outfield and all over the infield.
His talent is versatility, and that's a talent that is actually pretty rare in baseball.
So why not honor the versatile players by giving each All-Star team a super-utility player? Casual baseball fans would scoff, but true baseball fans know that these players have a ton of value.
Generally speaking, the only relievers who make the All-Star team are closers. The All-Star Game thinks the save is important.
The problem, obviously, is that the save is not important. It's the most overrated statistic in baseball (next to fielding percentage).
I understand that this is a hard thing to sell fans. Closers are going to have to keep making the All-Star team, for good or ill.
There should, however, be a rule that requires each league to elect at least one non-closer. Somebody like Texas Rangers lefty Robbie Ross comes to mind as a perfect example. He's 6-0 pitching out of the Rangers' pen this season with a 0.95 ERA. He's pitched 46.2 innings, and the Rangers will vouch that he's saved them a ton of trouble.
Relievers like Ross deserve some recognition. They may not have saves, but that doesn't matter.
You know what the worst part about the All-Star Game is?
The fact that it's played on a Tuesday.
Big events shouldn't be held on Tuesdays. Or Mondays. Or Wednesdays. Or Thursdays. They should be held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Those are days people can have fun on. Nobody can get too crazy on a Tuesday night. At least, nobody with a job to do the next day, anyway.
Plus, holding the festivities during the weekend would make things easier on people who travel from all over to attend the game. They'd get to save some vacation and/or sick days.
This isn't a lot to ask. The All-Star Game misses the midway point of the season by a few games, meaning there's a margin for error. To make up for that, all MLB has to do is play the game a few days earlier.
It ain't rocket surgery.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.