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July 10, 2003

Breaking Balls

Reworking the All-Star Game

by Derek Zumsteg

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I booked my vacation right through next week, somewhere without televisions. It's going to be the first All-Star Game I've missed for as long as I can remember. I think the players didn't do a good job of voting in other players, but then, has anyone ever been completely happy with the way players are selected? I don't care about the home-field advantage issue--we'll see if this new incentive overpowers the instinct to play everyone on the roster. If a change had to be made, I'd have preferred to see home-field advantage determined by overall record in interleague play...except that I'm opposed to anything that keeps interleague play alive.

It's that I just don't find All-Star festivities exciting at all. I'd rather take a break from attending and watching baseball for a week in the same way the players like to get back to their families (which, incidentally, is why you get to see all those touchy-feely stories about how the stork's visiting your home team each April).

It's part of the larger problem with baseball. The whole "This time it counts" thing is exactly the kind of solution Commissioner Selig comes up with. If you have a problem, and you want to solve it, here's a good way to do it:

  • determine the nature of the problem

  • figure out the causes of the problem

  • examine possible solutions, considering their cost and impact

  • carry out the best solution

When you have time to consider things, almost everyone goes through something like that to make the best decision they can.

Selig never, ever does this. The cliché is that every problem looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer. Selig went to Costco and stocked up on bandages and duct tape, and he's determined to use them. Embarrassed by a tie in the All-Star Game, tie it to home field advantage. Not sure what to do, expand the playoffs again. I'm seriously afraid of what might happen during this off-season: I'd buy Selig the NFL Sunday Ticket package if I didn't think it'd result in yearly schedule strength adjustments and halftime shows in MLB. I suspect Selig's out there reading the wackiest print columnists he can find, clipping sarcastic articles and highlighting lines suggesting 'designated runner,' then writing "hmmm...pretty good idea" on a note he clips to the paper before sending it to an annoyed Sandy Alderson. If you don't think baseball's broken, you just haven't given it enough thought.

Take the Home Run Derby. I've been to one, and it was OK, but now it's 12 hours long and seems to feature seven, eight home runs total. Fewer hitters want to do it because swinging for the fences that hard over and over messes up their swing, or makes them too sore. And it features Chris "Borinator" Berman, who wore his nickname thing out years ago and no one's had the heart to tell him for fear that he'll lose the will to live ("I can't announce...I can't analyze...all I had was the nicknames, Dr. Bobby-Bo-Bo"). And baseball's solution every year has been to make the Derby slower, more boring, and harder to endure.

It's like the Olympics: as the ratings drop, they pack the events with more advertising to keep the revenue up, which causes people to tune out. People get fed up with personal profiles of athletes overcoming obstacles, so they get more profiles...and so on. It's the same way with the All-Star Game. As All-Star week has become bloated and boring from start to finish, baseball's response has been to drag out the Home Run Derby, add more side events, and make voting even more multi-staged and confusing. What are we up to now, 40 players a team, not including the selected-but-not-going? That's a college football team, not a baseball lineup.

The one-player-per-team is good: when I was a fan of the bad Mariners, I took a lot of joy in seeing the team send a representative every year, and if it keeps the fans of bad teams involved in the game, that's worth the marginal sacrifice.

I've never bought into second-guessing the fan voting. The All-Star Game is (was) about seeing the players you wanted to see in an exhibition game, and if that meant you as a fan wanted to see Cal Oncegreatveteran take the field alongside the current greats, well, that's what you want to see. I wish people would go see the movies I like, too, so that more of my kind of movies would get made. But voting allows everyone to pick who they want, and complain about everyone else's vote.

If baseball really wants to make All-Star festivities entertaining though, they should split it up. I was going to suggest an Anti-Stars game, with the worst players at each position playing each other, but I realized what's the point? You can just go see a Detroit-Tampa Bay game and get the same effect.

I'd like to see the All-Star game with fan elections and then some way of filling out the rosters, and then a Dim Star game with good players who don't get any recognition (though there's going to be a lot of competition as everyone's got their pet 'most underrated' player). Though that then raises the question--if everyone recognizes a player's not getting recognition, doesn't that defeat the point? No matter.

Baseball should have a celebrity villain game, sponsored by America's Farmers, where all the most-hated players try to play while fans hurl rotten fruit and vegetables at them.

What I really want is a "put up or shut up" game in which a team of random players--no stars, this would be a great place to play an all-rookie game, for instance, or give some exposure to the best bench players in the league--face off against fans who say that pro players are overpaid and pampered, and if the fans win, they get a Wily Mo Pena contract and $1 million in a giant novelty check, but if they lose, they have to stop acting stupid for a year.

I love this idea, but it should be even more humiliating. When you start out, the players will score a zillion runs, as the fans go hitless, unable to hit a breaking pitch. So then you offer to reset the score and spot them a pitcher: someone decent from Triple-A, maybe, but it's double the stakes: the fans have to shut up for two years or, if they win, get $2 million and a spot on a 25-man roster as a pinch-runner. Now it's interesting: against major league pitching, a replacement-level pitcher's going to give up five, six runs...with an ordinary defense, and the fans aren't ordinary. The players bunt down the lines mercilessly and score over and over. Offer to reset the score again, and stop bunting, even spot the fans 20 runs in a four-inning game, but it's for four times the money and if the fans lose, they can't say a bad word about player salaries, lifestyles, or anything related for the rest of their lives.

Then the players that get on steal every base on the weak-armed catcher throwing to the slow-and-poor-fielding infielders (balls likely flying into the outfield), scoring from first on every fly ball to the outfielders…

If there's anything that televises better than humiliation, I'd like to know what it is. This is the kind of great innovative entertainment baseball needs to reach out to the average fan and get them involved, and at the same time inspire appreciation for how hard it is to play baseball at the highest levels. In future years, there'll be all kinds of variants they can use, like playing with a three-man infield (P/SS/2B/1B) and one-man outfield against a full fan team, forcing the players to run the bases sack-race style, and so on.

Every year, the players could come up with cool ideas to handicap themselves and still show how much better they are then the people who claim that anyone could be a baseball player for minimum wage. Anyone can perform surgery for minimum wage, too, but that doesn't mean you'd want that, either.

Related Content:  Fans,  All-Star Game,  The Who,  All-star Break,  All Star Game

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