2012 MLB All-Star Game: Why Mandatory Attendance Is a Bad Idea

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2012 MLB All-Star Game: Why Mandatory Attendance Is a Bad Idea
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Baseball's home-field advantage is the only one among the major North American sports literally written into the rules: The home team bats last. It would follow that this advantage would be the most judiciously and discriminately dispensed in all of sports.

Not so.

Rather, prior to 2003, baseball had simply alternated home-field in the World Series between the American and National leagues. Following the tied All-Star game in 2002, Selig and the owners opted, inexplicably, to award the advantage to the game's winner.

This proposition was extended in 2005 and made permanent in 2006. The intent was to create an incentive to win, but as with most of Selig's decisions, this one was ill-conceived and rushed to the bargaining table.

Because the tie came when both sides had run out of pitchers, the prudent action would have been to simply expand the rosters and gently remind the managers to hold back a few players just in case the unthinkable happened. Yet as it stands today, the rosters have not increased, the managers are still advised to hold back players, and there isn't even the mildest guarantee that a tie won't happen again.

Instead of fixing the cause of the problem (not enough players), Selig opted to create a whole new one. And his new collective bargaining agreement, signed into effect this week, proves that he hasn't learned a thing from his mistakes.

Now, players selected to the All-Star game are mandated to appear unless injured or otherwise excused by the league. (Cue the sound of a half-dozen veterans sidelined two days before the game by those pesky, nagging calf injuries they've had for so long but never mentioned before.)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It would be bad enough if these amendments to the All-Star game were for their own sake. I could live with a well-meaning Bud Selig, whose idiosyncrasies lead to fun and experimental changes to the game. (I still pine for the first game in which a sensor behind home plate calls balls and strikes.)

Alas, that is not the Bud I know. This version, the terribly and frighteningly real version, does these things in the name of traditionalism and in the process, drags the game back to its parochial, illiterate roots.

All-Star games once had mass appeal because the viewing audience was resigned to local coverage—save for the World Series—and rarely had the chance to see the game's stars. But today, with 24-hour coverage by ESPN and several all-inclusive Internet and television viewing packages, there are no stars we haven't seen.

Because of this, All-Star games have lost their cultural significance. And for other sports, that's just fine.

The NBA, in fact, no longer trades on the name of its midseason exhibition; instead, they sell their event as All-Star Weekend, featuring music, skills competitions and the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge as attractions every bit as watchable as the main event.

This retooling of the festivities has resulted in the NBA having perhaps the most culturally-significant All-Star-related event in sports. Notice, however, that almost none of this stems from the All-Star game itself, which is an afterthought in most seasons. (Last year was an exception, mostly due to the rare inclusion of a New York Knick in the starting lineup and Carmelo Anthony's ongoing trade drama. Or, perhaps melodrama is the better term, though you'd have to forgive the pun.) 

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

The NFL finds itself in an unusual dichotomy of being our nation's most popular sport and least-interesting All-Star contest. The Pro Bowl is a game only in the loosest sense, with none of the participants giving what could be called their best effort.

This is not unique among exhibitions, but it's especially striking in football. Physicality is the backbone of the game, and without it, you're left with an overly fancy game of catch.

But, the NFL doesn't necessarily fight this, seemingly content to let the Pro Bowl be what it is due to the fact that it will draw ratings simply because it bears the NFL shield. The decision was made recently to stage the game the week before the Super Bowl, which does little but ensure that players from the Super Bowl teams will not participate. (They rarely participated anyway, but even so.)

Perhaps coolest of all, the NHL instituted an All-Star draft last season, in which team captains select their rosters from a pool of All-Stars selected by fans and a league committee. I don't know how much this will raise ratings for the lowest-rated major sport in the country, but the draft alone is a load of fun and worth watching, even if you don't plan on watching the game itself.

MLB has gone the other way, opting to manufacture the awe and wonderment of yore through bully tactics and the misappropriation of the World Series. This will not bode well for the game, and the effects can already be felt, as pundits have begun bemoaning a lower-seeded team holding home-field advantage.

It should be noted that the All-Star game is rarely decided by those who will actually play in the relevant series (with the notable "half-exception" of this past season in which Texas' C.J. Wilson allowed the eventual game-winning home run to Prince Fielder), which defeats any possible purpose this stipulation might have served.

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Mets 3B David Wright came perilously close to pitching in the All-Star game two years ago and would have had the game gone an inning longer, opening the door to the very real possibility of the winning run coming off of a position player's 60 mph “fastball” offering. Surely, a tie is preferable to that.

The other salient issue is that of the rosters themselves. Considering the prize, I find it counterintuitive that the teams would be constructed by the fans. To no one's surprise, the starting lineup for the AL last season was almost exclusively from Boston or New York, and that trend isn't likely to stop.

So yes, in a game that will decide home-field advantage in the World Series, and perhaps decide the series itself, the teams will be fielded based on fan popularity and Selig's edict that each team is represented by at least one player.

It makes no sense, but that was to be expected from the man who brought professional baseball to Florida and avoided instant replay until its absence negatively affected the game's most lauded interleague series. What troubles me is that Selig isn't yet satisfied.

Thankfully, this is set to be Selig's final CBA, so there's hope that someone with better sense will spend the first years of his or her (and never doubt that it could very well be a her—a change in perspective we should all welcome) administration undoing all of Bud's dastardly deeds.

But deep down, I know that won't be the case. This is baseball, after all, and one lousy commissioner is far from its only problem.

In the meantime, let's just hope there aren't any more calamities for Selig and the owners to have knee-jerk reactions to, lest we find ourselves watching an All-Star series or something similarly horrifying.

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