The 2002 All-Star Game changed everything.
After the infamous tie that year, Commissioner Bud Selig and Co. decided that another such unresolved outcome needed to be avoided at all costs, and so the All-Star Game has "counted" since 2003: Whichever side wins the game earns home-field advantage in the World Series.
The merits of this change can be debated all day (and night), but that's for another time and place.
What's not up for debate is the edge granted to the league that wins.
Take the 2011 World Series, the only one that has gone to Game 7 since 2003. Down three games to two—and down to their final strike—the St. Louis Cardinals won it all, defeating the Texas Rangers in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. At home.
Because the National League won the All-Star Game that year, the final two games were played at Busch Stadium.
If the result of the All-Star Game is going to potentially impact the sport's championship, a few other things need to be changed, too.
Here, then, are a few suggestions for how certain aspects of the All-Star Game experience could be made better and more competitive, starting with the 2013 Midsummer Classic on July 16 at Citi Field in New York.
The fan vote is a key element of the All-Star Game. The event, after all, is for the fans, so they should get to see the players they want to see. For the most part.
On the whole, fans do a solid enough job of picking the starters, but it would be better to have some checks and balances to prevent any silly mistakes do to the popularity-contest nature of fan voting.
Splitting the vote three ways—between fans, coaches and writers—would prevent this sort of thing. That way, fans would still get their say, but a predetermined number of coaches and writers each year would also be able to weigh in.
So even if the fan vote this season winds up choosing the Yankees' Robinson Cano as the AL's starting second baseman, the coaches and the writers could overrule if both blocks agreed on the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia as the starter.
And if the vote was split three ways—with Cano chosen by the fans, Pedroia by the writers and Ian Kinsler by the coaches, for example—the fans would still get their way.
Once the starters are finalized, the rest of the rosters need to be put together by the game's coaches, as is currently the case. The goal, of course, needs to be more focused on filling out a roster that can win an individual game.
In the interest of honoring a sufficient number of players, rosters should be 35 players on either side. That's more than the typical 25-man rosters from the regular season.
This would also allow for each side to carry plenty of reserve hitters and, especially, pitchers—the reason that 2002 game had to end in a tie.
Oh, and that inane every-team-gets-an-All-Star rule? Let's lose that one already.
All in all, the 35-man rosters would look something like this: four catchers, two infielders each at first base, second base, third base and shortstop (and two extra utility infielders (middle and/or corner), six outfielders, two designated hitters, eight starting pitchers and five relievers.
Plain and simple: Starting position players should be ready to play at least five innings minimum, because the best players need to get the most action when home-field advantage is on the line.
The more substitutions there are, the worse the game becomes. Plus, it's hard for players to stay invested when they know they're going to come out after a couple of innings—or conversely, when the substitutes are expecting to get only a single inning in the field or one at-bat.
It's fine and fair to put in a second player at most positions, but this should be done when appropriate. Like when the player is as good as the one he's replacing, or when the player can give his team the platoon advantage against the opposing pitcher—the sort of thing that goes on in the later innings of a normal contest.
And we don't need to have, say, the best actual pinch-hitter on the All-Star roster just because he's used to coming off the bench cold and attempting to get a hit in a key spot late in the game during the regular season.
Pretty sure the Cardinals' Allen Craig or the Rangers' Adrian Beltre, who won't be starters but should be All-Stars, could do that job.
Not to harp on that whole pitcher problem, but it really is the biggest issue for an All-Star Game. Starting pitchers are conditioned to throw five, six, seven innings every time out, but that obviously can't happen in a game that is still more or less an exhibition.
It shouldn't be that way, but the Mets wouldn't appreciate seeing Matt Harvey throw six innings and 100-plus pitches, even though the game is being held at Citi Field this year.
So any starting pitcher should expect to go two innings, perhaps three, depending on factors like game situation and work load. That way, three or four arms would be able to get the game to the seventh or eighth inning, where it could be turned over to the bullpen.
From there, the top closers, as chosen by coaches, should handle things. So what if Reds closer Aroldis Chapman throws in the eighth and Braves stopper Craig Kimbrel pitches the ninth—or vice versa. An inning is an inning.
And as with hitters, there's no real reason to have top specialist pitchers (i.e. lefty or righty specialists) or even top setup men on All-Star Game rosters, unless they are truly deserving. And we certainly don't need to see them pitching in key spots in the later innings when better arms (i.e. those who typically pitch the ninth) are available.
Players have to execute, but managers have to put them in the best position to do so.
The biggest point here is that each team's coaching staff needs to treat the All-Star Game like a playoff game. That means no unnecessary tinkering. No getting every hitter an at-bat or every pitcher a few outs.
NL manager Bruce Bochy shouldn't be pulling a Tony La Russa by making five pitching changes to get four outs in the seventh and eighth. That doesn't mean, though, that AL manager Jim Leyland shouldn't use left-hander Chris Sale against a string of the NL's lefty hitters like Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper in a key spot.
To that end, starting lineups should be set to avoid having three straight lefty hitters in a row. They don't have to be alternating left-right-left all the way through, but keeping that lineup construction in mind would obviously make matchups more challenging—and make for better competition—throughout the game.
That, after all, is the idea. The All-Star Game is still an exhibition, but with home-field advantage on the line, it also counts.
And it should be played and managed as such.