The 2008 MLB All-Star Game was a unique one. In terms of actual playing time, none before had ever taken as long. This scenario provided fans and analysts with a true sense of what can become a major problem in a baseball "exhibition" game.
The starters for the evening were voted on by fans and are theoretically the most popular, if not most talented, players the game has to offer in a given year. However, in an effort to try and be fair to all players, and allow everyone some playing time, most of these starters are pulled early.
In a game that only lasts the standard nine innings, or in a timed game without strict substitution rules (basketball or hockey),this is a great idea. Fans are able to see the maximum number of players, and with MLB's rule that all teams must be represented, every fan will get to see someone from their favorite team.
Yet, a year like this one proves how this philosophy can't really carry over from basketball/hockey to baseball. With no time limit, baseball games are theoretically endless and can drag on for several innings and hours past the original nine.
Therefore, by taking out your starters (and best players, at least in theory) early if a game heads to extra innings, a bulk of the playing time, and most of the late-inning heroics, is performed by All-Stars, but not the same ones who are usually on the covers of videogames or breaking home-run records.
This is not an entirely bad situation.
Most people get tired of hearing about the same dozen players over and over again, and it is refreshing to see the unique spectacle of an All-Star game being played by what can only be referred to as second-tier All Stars.
However, is it a good marketing move for the already beleaguered MLB to have guys like Dan Uggla and Russell Martin playing the exciting final innings while household names such as Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez have all been removed from play?
I must admit that I don't have a solution. The real problem is that if the game is only going to last nine or so innings, the current strategy adopted by all managers makes sense. Fans are happy because they get to see everybody play, less experienced players are excited to get some playing time on a national stage, and the starters are allowed to rest.
However, if the game drags on, and with the added incentive of World Series home-field advantage, there is an ever-increasing likelihood that this might happen. There either aren’t enough players to comfortably field the team and/or the players that are still playing are excellent athletes, but not ones that draw in huge audiences through name recognition alone.
Ultimately, I don’t think either way is totally right or totally wrong, and I’m glad that the All-Star Game means something and isn’t called a draw after a set number of tied innings.
As this new “This One Counts” approach to the Midsummer Classic continues I think that managers will begin to better know how to handle this situation and perhaps MLB will grant an extra roster spot or two to the teams.
In the end, now that ties are no longer an option, we as fans will be treated to more and more exciting finishes like this year’s, whether it’s being played by future Hall of Famers or those guys simply glad to be a part of the second-tier.