MLB All-Star Game: What's Broken and How To Fix It

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MLB All-Star Game: What's Broken and How To Fix It
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Preliminary results are in for the NL All-Star team and who will make up the respective teams that will face off in a "winner takes all grudge match."

The midsummer matchup marks the halfway point in the season and is normally a hyped and celebrated part of the season.  Recently, the game has been involved in controversy and Major League Baseball continually scrambles to fix what isn’t broken, and tweak what is. 

For what the game does well, it still falls short, and fails to deliver the exciting matchup that fans deserve. 

 

Home Field Advantage:

To begin, here’s a quick rundown on the history of baseball.  As we’re all aware, there is the American League and there is the National League.  There are two leagues because once upon a time in baseball, all that existed were rival leagues that played their own seasons. 

Bitter business rivalries and competition over players finally led to the inception of the World Series—a "winner takes all grudge match" to decide once and for all who was actually better. 

After the American League’s Boston team won the initial matchup, they hung a flag on their park declaring they were "World Champions."   Since 1903 it’s become an annual occurrence, and to this day we continue it on through the tradition of the World Series.

Understanding that clears up a couple of things that have happened throughout the history of baseball.  Until 1999, each league still had their own president which operated under the authority of the commissioner of baseball.  Each league had different markings on the baseball and had their league president’s signature on the cover. 

It was only recently that they dropped this in favor of just one baseball for all of the MLB with the commissioner’s signature.

You’ll also notice that both leagues still have different rules.  The American League allows for a designated hitter to bat in place of the pitcher, while the National League requires that all players must bat in their allotted space in the batting order. 

The National League also has two additional teams.

Another recent development is the spectre of interleague play.  Prior to 1997, the only time the American League faced the National League was either during the All-Star game, or during the World Series.  Now, for a few series each season teams will cross over to the other league and play regular season games.

The important thing to remember is the American League and National League are two separate entities operating under the umbrella of the commissioner of baseball.  The respective league winners will garner both respect and admiration for winning their league—even if they fall short in the Wold Series. 

Even today, this rivalry tradition continues on through the eternal argument of which league is actually better and plays a better form of baseball.

With that in mind, you need to look into home field advantage.  With the two leagues traditionally held as separate entities, how do you decide who should receive home field advantage for the World Series? 

Consider that 2001—one of the most thrilling World Series ever—went the full 7 games.  Interestingly enough, each game was won by the home team.  Do not sell it short, home field advantage is an important factor in each World Series.

The All-Star Game seems to be the best place to play off and decide who will earn the right to home field advantage. 

Interleague play is usually dominated by inter city rivalries, and a fair and balanced schedule comes secondary to exciting matchups.  This makes it difficult to declare that the league who wins more interleague games will receive home field advantage. 

It’s also not fair to call the team with the higher winning percentage the beneficiaries of home field advantage.  When you’re playing the bulk of your season against a different selection of teams, winning percentage is a bad indicator of which team was better compared with a different league.

Besides being unfair, it’s really boring in comparison to a one-game playoff each season with the best players against the best players to decide.  Compared with the other options and looking at the historical traditions of the leagues, the All-Star Game is both the most fair and exciting way of determining the home field advantage for the World Series.

 

Winning the Game:

One of the biggest problems with the All-Star Game is the different ideologies competing against one another.  The game now "counts."  But at the same time, it’s still a spectacle and tries to be inclusionary of the higest possible amount of players and teams. 

It’s like being stuck in an elementary school gym class where "all students must compete and all students get a participation ribbon.  Except, the most important event of the year will be decided on the results so you had better win!."  It just doesn’t work.

Fans vote on the players, and fans will be fans and elect the highest possible amount of their own players.  Don’t kid yourselves, the reason the Yankees and Red Sox elect the most amount of players every season has more to do with fanbase size than it does with the amount of deserving players. 

Defend Jorge Posada’s history and preach to me how well of a game that Jason Varitek calls for the Red Sox, I really don’t care to listen. But how many votes will both of those players receive for the All-Star game? The answer is too many.

On the flip side, the inclusionary nature of “we want all teams to have representation” will undoubtedly lead to instances of affirmative action.  Deserving players will be left out of the game for players who just happen to stink the least on a losing ball club. 

Using the current stats for the Nationals, make me a logical argument for why any player on their roster deserves to be one of the best 34 players in the league.  There’s a comments section below to post your findings.

The next issue affects managers who try to fit all 34 players into the game rather than worrying about wins or losses.  Hurt feelings are still abound in baseball, and with rivalries along with fan voting, winning and losing becomes secondary to your .220 hitting catcher who was voted in and needs to see playing time.

Fans will be fans, but MLB encourages this with their marketing campaign.  Bud Selig decreed the game as meaningful, but it was part of a hasty response to a badly handled tie game. 

Rather than selling this game as the best of the best and a "winner takes all grudge match" to set up World Series matchups, it’s being sold as "vote your players to the game." 

Chosen players are not usually the best players and might not even be the most exciting players.  Instead, it’s a battle of who has the biggest fanbase.  This is a direct result of the fan participation and trying to get fan support on board to ensure there’s a product they want to watch. 

As a result, they’re sacrificing quality for popularity.  in turn, the lack of quality is actually hurting the popularity of the game.

As well as being a grudge match, it’s the opportunity for the best of the best-of-the-best to face off mano-e-mano.  This plays into the coaching strategy.  Sure, (insert star player here) might be a perennial fan favorite, but don’t sell short playing for matchups which are absolutely out of this world. 

Imagine using Roy Halladay out of the bullpen to counteract a pinch hitting Jose Bautista. 

Imagine Mariano Rivera facing Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzales in the ninth inning of a one-run game. 

A few seasons ago, it was Derek Lowe being taken deep in the first inning by Barry Bonds and Torii Hunter bringing it back. 

Those are the sorts of situations you should try and create through good situational managing, not through fair play time and equal opportunities.  Manage to win and excitement will take care of itself.

 

Conclusion:

Ultimately it will take convincing the fans to accept the methods that should be used in the All-Star Game.  But that begins with major league baseball.  Fan votes are exciting, but the product on the field should be the most exciting part. 

The All-Star Game shouldn’t just be a summary of how the last few months of voting went.

Baseball should always be concerned with putting the best quality product on the field.  Fans will see how excitement will prevail, especially when MLB stops dumbing down the average fan. 

Speak to the quality of play, the historical matchups, and the importance of winning.  Fan interaction and Twitter campaigns may be secondary, but ultimately it will lead to a greater product. 

Having a greater quality product is what will preserve the national past time and pass it down to subsequent generations.

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