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July 16, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Fixing The All Star Game After Saying It's Not Fixable

by Matthew Kory

Today I took an untimely look at the All Star game and suggested that we all stop trying to fix it because it’s fundamentally flawed and not fixable. Now watch as I try to fix the All Star game! The premise of my article (which you can find here) is that the All Star game is an exhibition and because it doesn’t count in the standings and is played by multi-millionaires who don’t care about the difference between the winning team’s check and the losing team’s check, there isn’t anything that can be done to create a competitive game. Baseball tried by putting home field advantage in the World Series on the line, but, to obnoxiously quote myself:

The outcome of the game has precisely no impact on the remainder of the season for every single player involved. There is no way to infer from the game’s outcome that a single player or franchise is any better off than they were before the All-Star Game was played. Plainly put, winning the game doesn’t matter for any player.

Winning the game doesn’t matter because even though Baseball says it counts, the game doesn’t really count.

So here’s my idea: what if the game did count? Like what if it counted in the standings? The franchises represented by the players from the winning team would get a win while the franchises represented by the players from the losing team would get a loss. That would create genuine incentive to win the game because, for the first time ever, it would make the All Star game an actual baseball game and not an exhibition.

As with all suggestions of this nature, it comes with its own set of problems. The first is that if everyone in the American League gets a win and everyone in the National League gets a loss, who cares? That won’t impact the standings at all. So, to get around that, the players would have to be divided into two teams irrespective of their league. That creates logistical concerns that I have no intention of solving here.

We’ll leave it at this: the only way I can come up with to create a genuine game atmosphere played between All Stars is to make the game actually count in the standings. So, what am I missing? Why is this a bad idea?

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  All Star Game

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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I agree there is no way to make the all-star game mean anything in its current format. The only solution would be two all-star games. Eff it, double-header baby!

Have the fan voting and the usual game with the circus atmosphere they have now. Play the game just about how it's played now. Expand the rosters by a few more players and you'll have plenty to go around. Have a few more pitchers throw 2+ innings, especially starters pitching in relief.

Then Game 2, this one COUNTS! Same managers and coaching staffs but they get to pick a 25 man roster of whomever they feel are the very best players. Pick the 25 man roster when announcing the pitching staffs.

Use of bench and bullpen should approximate any normal Yankees-Red Sox game. So expect a close game at 4+ hours with benches used. If Verlander and Cain start, for example, they should be expected to pitch a normal 7-8 innings as they normally would.

MLB pays travel expenses and TBD bonus (negotiated with union) for being on the 25 man roster. No contract bonuses allowed. Not allowed to skip the game unless a valid injury occurs. Playing in the game if selected part of the standard player contract.

Jul 16, 2012 13:13 PM
rating: -1

You'd never get the players to agree to a doubleheader. So scrap the first current-style game.

But I like the idea of picking teams playground style. So go ahead and select players as currently selected, but no one knows who they're going to play for until 1/2 hour before the first pitch, when the managers pick teams. I think the competitive juices of the players would kick in with this more impromptu and (to my mind at least) fun approach. They'd get fired up during the picking, and that would sure be a lot more entertaining to watch than the boring call them out to the baseline to tip their hats stuff. Picture players calling out to the managers lobbying to be picked early, the revelation of who the managers really think is best (aside from their own guys, of course), and the poor guys left at the end trying desperately to avoid being the last picked.

Jul 17, 2012 13:16 PM
rating: -1

You mean like they are doing in the NHL? It's a gimmick that is kind of interesting once, and then just as boring as the rest of the exhibition.

Jul 17, 2012 13:26 PM
rating: 2
Shaun P.

Hmmm . . . that's a good question. I haven't come up with a problem yet.

While I try to come up with a problem, I have a further fix - make the ASG count in the standings AND have home field advantage in the World Series go to the team with the best record. You could then divide up the 2 leagues into 2 equal groups of 15 teams, maybe based on record or number of games out of a playoff spot? The goal would be to have an equal number of players in each group on teams that really need the extra win for HFA, and thus you avoid one group trying to lose (better draft pick with more losses = team improves faster) instead of win.

Each group forms a team in the ASG, and the starters are . . .

OK, I've got a problem. Unless you choose which AL and NL teams are on which All-Star teams beforehand, how do you do fan voting?

Jul 16, 2012 13:24 PM
rating: -1

'fix' the game by

1) removing WS-HFA.
2) carrying two AAA / Future Star SPs in the bullpen as extras in case of a long tie game.
3) managers can manage their rosters however they see fit, and are encouraged to get all the rostered players into the game for maximum fan enjoyment.
4) more in-game marketing opportunities and promotions using social media, with giveaways for the WS and next Year's All*Star game. It's an exhibition game, so let's really make it into a mid-season carnival.

Jul 16, 2012 16:34 PM
rating: 1

Winning team gets a 1 game advantage in the WS, and the Series moves to best of 9. Totally blasphemous, but it's the only solution I see that works on the "make it count" track without making the rest of the exercise as silly as the NHL's playground moves. The move to "best of 9" is there to make sure we don't lose any playoff game revenue - you might even gain a game if it goes to 9.

Jul 16, 2012 17:15 PM
rating: -1
Robert Bishop

It's a bad idea (okay, it's not bad, but not great either) because you're still either punishing or rewarding teams for the outcome of a game that is largely out of their control.

Personally, I'd rather they just admitted that it was an exhibition and not try to make it more than it is.

Jul 16, 2012 18:06 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I agree. I just had this thought when I was writing the other article and thought I'd like to share it. Honestly, I'm curious to hear what people think about it because I've never heard anyone propose something like this before (maybe someone has, but if so I'm not aware of it).

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Jul 16, 2012 23:33 PM

I don't think it gets you past the problem of individual motivation. Baseball is a game designed so that (to a large extent at least) the sum of selfish motivation to perform adds up to a collective team benefit. Players strive to play well for their teams, not just because it will aid their team in winning, but also because of their desire to excel and make money etc. In a regular season game, whether your team is good or bad, every PA counts towards your statistics. The better you do in these PA that count towards your overall statistics, the more notoriety you'll achieve, make more money etc.

So maybe you just make their performance count towards their season statistics? I still find that awkward, as I don't think the game should alter anything else or itself become "real."

And by fixing the all star game I guess it's meant to make it interesting and restore former ratings. But maybe times just change.

Jul 17, 2012 06:23 AM
rating: 0

If you're just throwing something crazy out there to generate discussion, that's no problem. However, if this was a serious proposal then it's honestly among the worst I've ever heard. You might as well add spring-training games to the standings, too, while you're at it.

The only thing wrong with the All-Star Game is that Bud Selig and Joe Torre killed it. Torre started treating it like a Little League-style mandatory participation exercise, and the players started responding accordingly over the years. Hell, as recently as the mid-90s Maddux threw 3 IP and you'll NEVER see that again from the starting pitcher.

Selig applied the coup de grace with his preposterious interleague Frankenchild. Nobody bothered to listen to we traditionalists when we warned that the ASG would be among interleague's victims. The chickens have simply come home to roost. This is the cost of trying to fix things that were never broken. Kill interleague and you might have a chance to revive the ASG; otherwise, forget it.

Jul 17, 2012 16:47 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

"If you're just throwing something crazy out there to generate discussion, that's no problem."

That's exactly what it is, though I wouldn't call it crazy. If I thought it were crazy I wouldn't have posted it here. It's not anything I expect to happen, but I thought it solved the problems inherent in the current All Star Game set-up that I described above and in my article.

I'm fine with your disagreement, but I don't see anywhere in your comment why you think the suggestion is "crazy" and "among the worst [you've] ever heard." When you use language like that it's not a stretch, I think, for someone to take it as insulting. For the record, I'm not taking that way, but that's the risk you run.

In any case, I'm curious as to why you feel that way. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

Jul 17, 2012 17:08 PM

To me it was clear when I implied the same rationale could be used to add spring-training results to the standings. It's just so absurd even Rube Goldberg would laugh, that's why I didn't think you could possibly be serious.

When the "solution" is 20 times more convoluted than the "problem" (random assignment of players to randomly-generated All-Star teams through some kind of draft that totally destroys whatever vestige of league affiliation still remains), that's a pretty good indicator that it's not worth pursuing. Sorry if anyone's feelings got hurt by pointing out what I thought was self-evident.

Jul 17, 2012 19:24 PM
rating: -1
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

No feelings were hurt over here. I just wanted to point out that when you use language like you did the potential for hurt feelings exists.

So, to you, league affiliation is important. That's totally legitimate. To me, it isn't important. I didn't consider it any kind of stumbling block. Do people still root for one league over the other? I don't, never have, and don't know anyone who considers themselves a fan of one league over another (beyond the DH thing, which is a separate argument). So I didn't take it into consideration.

If the problem is that the All Star game isn't being taken seriously by the players (and that's clearly what MLB thinks, not a problem I defined), and players make enough money that financial incentives to play harder are prohibitive, then making the game actually count in the standings seems like a reasonable solution to me.

Jul 17, 2012 19:52 PM

I run into a number of people who are primarily fans of one league over the other. For example, a friend only watches the AL. His team is in the AL and he hates the automatic outs of pitchers hitting. Yet there are also still NL diehards out there who prefer the greater purity of the NL game, which bears closer resemblance to what was played in the old days.

Frankly there's also a pretty massive difference in what the teams are expected to do to win. With the game's two 800-pound financial and media-coverage gorillas both in the AL, you simply have a much harder uphill climb in that league. AL teams may not HAVE to beat both NY and Boston back-to-back to go to the World Series, but they certainly must construct and prepare as if they'll have to do that. There just hasn't been that level of juggernaut in the NL for quite some time.

While it's true that players don't take the All-Star Game seriously anymore, the "blame" doesn't lie with the players. Management and ownership are the ones responsible for turning it into a sideshow, and the players simply followed along once they saw the sea change. If it's ever to be fixed, the parties responsible for ruining it in the first place ought to be charged with the wholesale correction of what they tore down...not by instituting some new system that would punish people who weren't culpable.

Jul 17, 2012 20:40 PM
rating: -2
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I never put blame on the players in a negative sense. They aren't incentivized to play to win. That's MLB's responsibility, which gets us back to my original article and then this post.

Jul 17, 2012 21:13 PM

That only highlights another problem with your proposal which you probably didn't realize: This idea wouldn't give the players incentive to win, it would increase their and the clubs' incentives not to play in it at all.

MLB is the most risk-averse business I've ever encountered, especially closer to the top of the pyramid. If they tried to implement a system similar to what you outlined here, every contending team in the league will strongly encourage--if not force--their players out of the ASG. They won't care one bit about the potential reward of gaining a game in the standings on their rivals, they'll care far more about the risk of losing one.

A raft of phony injuries later, and you'd soon be left with the non-contenders supplying most of the rosters for the ASG...and there go the ratings even further. The teams will argue to the league "you can't penalize us a game in the standings when none of our guys played" and they'd have a great point. Everybody would know that the contending teams discouraged/forbade their guys participating (likely even providing backroom financial incentives), but publicly nobody would admit it. MLB couldn't do a thing about it, either, unless they wanted to answer injunctions instead of promoting playoff races.

Everyone who would argue "make it a rule that they're forced to participate" is naive, because that's a subject for collective bargaining and nobody could realistically expect the union to willingly cede a desperately needed midseason break. That's still another reason for the decline in enthusiasm among the players: The season is an absolute grind and off-days are worth their weight in gold, particularly in the drug-testing era.

They're not going to come out and say so, but you can bet that many of the top stars who go to the ASG nearly every year are privately relieved to get a rest in the seasons that they're finally omitted from the rosters. Guys just aren't going to give up that safety net for an exhibition game, no matter how hard the league tries to title and/or incentivize it otherwise.

Unfortunately this is one Pandora's Box that MLB opened and I seriously doubt they ever could close. Players are generally only excited to go to the ASG the first time or two. After that, they're mostly just interested in showing up for the spoils and the parties. Playing is a total afterthought and frequently not any kind of motivator at all. I'm afraid that ship has long since sailed.

Jul 18, 2012 03:01 AM
rating: 0

I think your idea is unique. However, I don't believe it's logistically possible. The issue of dividing the teams would be particularly difficult, considering the number of stakeholders involved in this scenario. Also, with playoff spots coming down to Games 162 and 163 so often in recent years, I wouldn't want to imagine the public outcry if a team (or teams) lost a playoff spot due to the ASG outcome.

I believe the biggest issue revolves around the marketing of the game. If we weren't subjected to repeated commercials of players telling us the game mattered, we wouldn't be so offended when those same players relax and have fun during the game. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the current-day ASG, so I'm not really offended, but the over-the-top marketing and the slogan just seem so fake.

Jul 17, 2012 17:03 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I think it's logistically possible. After the All Stars are selected you'd divide them up by team (all Red Sox on one side, all Braves on the other, etc.) so the players were relatively equal in number on both sides. You could even had a televised draft. I don't think it would be prohibitively difficult.

MLB is concerned that the All Star game wasn't being taken seriously enough. That's why they tied Home Field Advantage to the winning league. I don't believe that change fixed the essential problem which I described in more detail in my article. The way the game is marketed has little to do with the way it's played. Marketing might set some fan expectations, but I don't believe it impacts the players or the way the game is played (not that you claimed it did, just saying).

Jul 17, 2012 17:27 PM

OK, let's drift away from the logistical aspect of it, as that's something you weren't trying to solve and I may have mislabeled. You're still going to need buy-in from the managers more than the players, I think. If the managers are willing to manage it like a real game, then I think the players would follow suit. Maybe the pitchers would have to be on innings & pitch limits (similar to the Futures Game), but the position players would have to be ready to play the whole game.

My biggest problem is that you're going to have upset clubs (owners, players, fans) when their team is opposed by the team(s) they're battling for a playoff spot. For example, let's suppose the White Sox are on one ASG team, and the Tigers and Indians are on the other. The Indians had 2 players and the Sox had 4. Now let's say no Indians play (this game counts) and their team wins. Don't you see Jerry Reinsdorf calling up his close friend Bud and demanding an explanation for how he allowed the White Sox to lose a game in the standings to the Indians without 1 Indian player involved?

Of course, the logistical aspect is the biggest stumbling block, and if that can be figured out, then maybe the idea could gain some steam.

Jul 17, 2012 17:54 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

"My biggest problem is that you're going to have upset clubs (owners, players, fans) when their team is opposed by the team(s) they're battling for a playoff spot."

This is actually the beauty of the idea. This is what would get people to watch. If you're a Dodgers fan and you're competing with the Giants in the NL West and the Dodgers and Giants are on opposite teams, you'd tune in because the game would actually matter.

Jul 17, 2012 21:15 PM

Now you're back to the fan experience over the player buy-in.

I think the fan experience is more important than the player buy-in. That's why I want the marketing of the game to change. Don't have Prince Fielder tell me he's playing to win in the commercials only to have him goad Verlander into trying to throw 101 for fun during the game.

Jul 18, 2012 18:21 PM
rating: 0
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