Last year, like most, you could cast your vote for the uh, “most deserving” players for the All-Star Game. No big deal, right? Happens every year. Until you realize that you could cast those votes before filing your Federal income taxes, and the IRS wouldn’t have any issues with you. …that is, unless your name is “Patriot Tea Party American Constitution Don’t Tread On Me Limbaugh”.
No person, reasonable or unreasonable (I’ll get to that in a moment) can cast a sane, legitimate vote to send a player to the mid-summer classic on April 13th. At that point in the season, some dude is still on pace for 557 RBI. How do you not vote for that guy? There could be a couple of teams still on pace to go 162-0, behind their big pitcher who has only given up 3 hits ALL SEASON! It’s absurd.
There are a number of things going on here, and as such, a number of ways to “fix” those things. No single answer exists to resolve the issues (real or perceived), and still please the fans, players, owners, players association…etc. To me, and I admit to leaning to the traditional/purist side of the middle, the ASG has become a self-conflicting event. Some would disagree, and that’s fine, I welcome respectful debate at any time, but to me to “fix” it, one must first identify what, specifically, is broken. As you may have guessed, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
- The All-Star Game should be an exhibition for the fans OR it should “count”. Not both.
It’s like trying to be an overachiever in your career, secure the “spouse of the year” award, and still be the best little league coach in your kid’s division. You can be really good at one, and not-so-great at the others, or you can drive yourself crazy trying to be good at everything, and end up being lousy all the way around. Telling one of those groups of people ‘no’ won’t be easy, but it’s better than continuing to disappoint all the people in all of the groups. I suggest MLB just rip the band-aid off, and choose.
- The voting is all kinds of jacked up.
Like I said a moment ago, voting starts far too early. I personally don’t cast my votes before the calendar says “June”, and I only cast actual paper ballots at the ballpark in person, one at a time. It’s just a thing with me. I remember listening to a Cardinals broadcast on the radio several years ago, and Mike Shannon said something along the lines of, “One of these days, with all these dot coms out there, they’re gonna figure out a way for a guy to lead off an inning with a grand slam.”. Well, Mike, not quite, but these dot coms have certainly put the ASG voting on PEDs. The sheer volume of ASG votes cast today, compared to ten or fifteen years ago, has exploded. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, growth is good, of course. But the exponential growth in votes cast tells us exactly nothing about whether or not the popularity of voting has grown. Compared to 2003 levels, for random example, fifty times the votes could be cast by a third of the number of fans. As with many things, MLB is playing a game with the numbers, and it makes things look rather rosy, whether they actually are or not. I could go on about the popular player getting the vote over the deserving less-recognized player, the cute player in the large market garners more votes than the better player in a mid or small market. Anybody with an internet connection or a game ticket can vote multiple times. Not that I think fans should need to “qualify” to have a voice–don’t misunderstand me–but, right or wrong, the entire spectrum of fandom is represented when the votes are tallied. I could further delve into a number of other voting-related issues that I see as problematic, but in the interest of keeping this post of modest size, I’ll truncate here.
- The players don’t even take it seriously.
Two leagues, each with one roster equals how many players elected to the All-Star Game? North of 80. Eighty! That’s more than 10% of all active MLB players. Enough players view the game as an opportunity to rest their body, and take a few days off that many, once elected to the roster (and thereby earning the bonus that their contract likely contains), the player, especially a veteran who’s been there before, will cite a barking knee or tired back as a reason to sit this one out. Why should they take it seriously? Uncle Bud had to call a tie when both sides were out of pitchers at Miller Park in the 2002 contest. You think the Players’ Association doesn’t have an opinion about that too? Dude. There are just so many things are wrong with the whole situation.
- Managing the ASG is an exercise in futility.
If the game counted and was not an exhibition for the fans, both managers would’ve likely managed their pitchers, pinch-hitters, defensive substitutions…etc quite differently. If it were purely an exhibition, all players would’ve been used, and rosters exhausted over almost exactly 27 outs. Remember how the 2006 ASG ended? To this day, I still can’t believe that! The coaches are chosen by the league champion manager from the previous season, who often chooses much of his own coaching staff, and other friends across the league. I don’t envy an ASG manager, I’ll say that much. Last year in Kansas City, Ron Washington needed to send Justin Verlander to the mound while wearing his “trying to win this game” cap. He wanted to send him out to the mound while wearing his “fans came here to see the game’s top players”, but he had to be careful about running him out there, because Verlander was between starts in real life, and Leyland needs his ace to be on schedule in order to stay competitive and chase the division championship. As it turned out, Verlander looked like Mitchell Boggs out there, and the Tigers ended up getting to the World Series anyway. What a game.
I’ll say this: Commissioner Selig has made a number of changes to the game, and many of them significant. I haven’t agreed with all of them, but all-in-all, regardless of my personal feelings, the game is very healthy right now. Mr. Selig deserves credit for that. But, in fairness, if I’m going to credit him for the good things, I can’t ignore the disaster the All-Star Game has become. I still enjoy watching the game, and most of the events surrounding it. The futures game is fun to watch, I can take or leave the celebrity softball game, and the HR derby is what it is (back, back, back, back, back). I went to everything when it came to St. Louis in 2009, and loved every minute of it (even found myself in a few highlights, including that SICK catch Carl Crawford made), but I’m pretty sure that was more a function of being there in person.
As it stands today, I think the All-Star game is mostly a joke. I’m ok with it being a revenue-generator (though I read figures last year that said the ASG brought $160MM to the Royals, equaling their 2011 income), but I wish the game would stand for one thing or the other. Not many who have won their company’s “executive of the year” award have a spouse to share it with, or a little league team’s trophy on the mantle next to it. Can’t be all things to all people.