Once upon a time, baseball’s All-Star Game was the gem of July. The best players from the National and American Leagues faced-off with bragging rights on the line.
Believe it or not, those rights mattered.
Now, the game’s luster is gone. Interleague play shows the best matchups. Albert Pujols vs. Zack Greinke. Yawn. It’s already happened this season. It probably will next.
It can’t only be blamed on Interleague play. The players don’t like exhibition games (And, yes, the All-Star Game is an exhibition even if Home Field advantage in the World Series is on the line.).
Just look at the revamped Baseball Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown. For the 69 seasons prior to this one, two Major League teams played an exhibition on Doubleday Field.
Now, it’s an Old Timer’s game.
Lately, it seems that most of the people who remember watching an All-Star Game could qualify to play in an Old Timer’s Game.
From 1976-1980, each All-Star Game had over 30 million viewers. The 2008 game had 14.5 million. The worrisome thing for baseball is that a 2008 Monday Night Football game, one of 17 that year, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins had 14.2 million viewers.
More reasons could be cited as the reason the All-Star Game has gone flat. However, a better use of time is finding a way to fix it.
The answer is something that the MLB has seen before.
Baseball must summon the spirit of Bill Veeck.
Veeck was an eccentric owner of several baseball teams and a master of the gimmick. In one of his most famous stunts, he hired Eddie Gaedel, a midget, to bat in the second game of a doubleheader. In my All-Star Game there will be no midgets (unless of course they are voted in), but there sure will be gimmicks.
People’s interest in the game must be refreshed each year. This means so do the gimmicks. The fans want to see the new and exciting.
Here are some ideas:
Major League Baseball would love to prove that the new clean game has replaced the old, PED-filled version. So, forget NL vs. AL. It’s young vs. old. The All-Star Game could have a team of under 30 year-old's slug it out against their elders.
This would reward players, like Ken Griffey Jr., who have had long, distinguished careers but no longer put up the statistics.
Just imagine Grady Sizemore on one side and Griffey on the other. Get creative. The elder statesman play in throwback uniforms and the young players sport futuristic garb.
The next year could be a throwback to one of Veeck’s most famous promotions, Grandstand Manager’s Day. In Veeck’s promotion, the fans were given Yes/No placards and voted on the game’s strategy.
The All-Star Game could implement a similar strategy on a global scale with text messaging and online voting. At certain points in the game, baseball would take a small break, say one or two minutes, and allow fans to vote for a certain scenario.
Imagine Derek Jeter up to bat with men on first and second in the seventh inning and his team down by a run. Should Mr. November bunt? It’s up to the viewers.
To fill the new empty time, the managers could be called upon to discuss what they would do. Imagine Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona talking about the pluses and minuses of Jeter bunting.
That’s good television.
If you don’t think the managers should be discussing this info, Fox could take another commercial break. Of course, the opposition would need to be surprised by the result of the poll, but, perhaps, Jose Canseco can be hired to ensure no one watches the television. Or, simpler, the results are posted after the play is completed.
The managers of the All-Star game do lose some power in this arrangement, but they may be happy conceding it. They have enough responsibilities just making all of the substitutions.
By the way, maybe they don’t know so much. Veeck’s St. Louis Browns snapped a four game losing streak when the fans were calling the shots.
The All-Star game could bring back retired players. It wouldn’t be on a large scale, just one player per team. Imagine if the Padres had the All-Star game in 2012.
Fans would love to see if Tony Gwynn could still lace a single up the middle at the age of 52. Give him one at bat as a pinch hitter or as an honorary DH (It doesn’t matter that it’s an NL park. It’s a gimmick for an exhibition. Besides the only thing more painful than watching a man in his fifties run is being a man in his fifties trying to run.). Let a retired Trevor Hoffman close the game for the other side.
Sure this would take a roster spot or, at least, playing time away from an active All-Star. However, the players understand the importance of history, especially if it’s only for one night.
Maybe the game just needs a ring painted across the outfield grandstand that marks 400 feet. Hit it past the line and the home run counts double. Maybe if a fan catches a ball it counts as an out. Anything goes as long as it makes the fans live happily ever after.
What do you think?
Are there any gimmicks that you think would make the All-Star Game more interesting?