The troubles of the All-Star Game

Being named an All-Star is, and should be, a great honor to any player. It’s a recognition that the player is one of the best at his position, and most of those who are selected get a chance to play to some degree. The baseball world appropriately stops to recognize those who make the game exciting that year.

But Major League Baseball has long had trouble figuring out how to make the All-Star Game relevant. The MLB isn’t the only league to face this difficulty. The NFL Pro Bowl is joked about every year. The fantasy format with “Team Rice” and “Team Sanders” was created this season in an effort to shake up the game and bring in more viewers.

The MLB originally took a very different tack — because many fans always felt a number of players not selected should have been included, a “Final Vote” was added for the last man on the roster. (The Final Vote was only needed because of another misguided, though well-meaning, policy the league has in place, which I’ll discuss below.)

After the 2002 All-Star Game, which ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, Bud Selig felt he needed to take action to prevent it from happening again. He made one change, the consequences of which continue today: stating that “this game matters,” Selig pronounced it would be the determinant of which league hosted the World Series.

Previously the World Series was hosted by each league in alternate years. Part of this idea was to make ticket sales easier for clubs on the front end, so they would know whether to have fans choose from three or four games on specific dates. It made some sense, but the time is since gone when that’s totally necessary. Technology has advanced — though it’s still desirable to have the actual ticket for a game, many fans print them out at home or have them on their smart phones. The bar code is all that’s really needed.

The time is long since gone when teams needed a few weeks to completely process ticket sales. It may be a bit of a pain, but major league franchises should be able to handle selling tickets as first, second, third and fourth home games in a series, with the slightly increased possibility of refunding fans for at least one of those games. It’s what they already do for championship series tickets.

And while it may be noble that Selig felt the All-Star Game should matter, making it the determinant of home field advantage was really just another selling point for fans that could very well have implications on the outcome of the most important games of the year.

Another question comes into play: Does the league want to reward regular season success or not? Under the present system, a Wild Card team could host a 105-game winner in the World Series. If the game goes to 7 games, more money will have gone to a club with a worse record.

When it comes time for the playoffs, the hottest teams are the ones that will advance. So many teams that have cruised to a division title struggled in the postseason because they weren’t in the middle of a hot stretch. Home field advantage helps balance that aspect somewhat, giving teams who won their divisions credit for doing so. When division winners face off, the one with the better record hosts an extra game. It should be so in the sport’s championship.

It’s ridiculous to place such value on a team that comes together for one day of the year and sees an inordinate number of substitutions in an effort to play as many All-Stars as possible. It would at least make some sense to place stock in a more long-term factor like collective interleague records. I am by no means saying that’s a good idea, but it at least puts some value in tangible accomplishments of one league over another in a more fair representation of the year.

I am convinced that the only equitable way to decide the home team of the World Series is by the two teams’ records. If the records are identical, tiebreakers could be determined like those in football. The All-Star game is for players who have earned their place; a World Series advantage should be determined in another way.

This brings me to another point. Voting for the All-Star game, while it hasn’t turned out horrible results this year, is a mess. All-Stars should be determined by quality of play, not fan approval. I know the voting process is supposed to help with fan interaction and engagement, but the teams aren’t always completely representative of the best talent. That feeds into the problem of the World Series host being determined by the outcome — if the starters aren’t all the best in that league, what basis is there for saying that’s a fair measure of one league against another?

Perhaps the MLB could keep the voting process, but pull baseball writers in on some level, as a percentage of the decision. Maybe those voted into the All-Star Game by fans could be assured a spot, but not necessarily the start. It might make some people unhappy, but it’s a way of making a better product.

Additionally, requiring at least one player from each team seems a bit of a farce. I know we don’t want to hurt feelings by excluding a team, but really, if one team doesn’t have a top three player at a position or a top 15 pitcher, why is anyone from that team representing the league? Other players who have made an impact for their team by playing well should make the roster, end of story. This policy is part of why a “Final Vote” was necessary to give another chance to those who got snubbed.

It’s doubtful the league will make the changes to keep this game relevant without trampling on a more important part of the season anytime soon. But there’s plenty of opportunity for the league to switch to a fairer model for all involved in the All-Star Game and the World Series. One can only hope that opportunity will be realized.

Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.

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