As we learned on Tuesday, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is a nice load of fluffy fun. It’s usually not much of a game, and this year’s edition was no exception. But God help you if you didn’t feel a little something when the “Franchise Four”—Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays—walked out arm-in-arm for the first pitch. It may lack stakes and tension, but the All-Star Game is rivaled only by the Fall Classic and Opening Day in terms of scale and corny baseball pageantry.
But, geriatric legends aside, the All-Star Game’s also really stupid, and every year, the MLB powers that be hope fans won’t spend too much time thinking about that fact.
Everything great and terrible about the All-Star Game was on display last summer, when Derek Jeter scorched a first-inning double into right field off National League starting pitcher Adam Wainwright. After the game, Wainwright admitted that he may or may not have grooved a very hittable pitch to Jeter, thus allowing a feel-good moment in what was the Yankee captain’s final All-Star appearance.
Things got silly the next day, when Wainwright’s probably-tongue-in-cheek comment was quickly greeted by the outrage-industrial complex. How dare he fail to throw every pitch with deadly seriousness! The All-Star Game is not an exhibition, after all. It will decide home-field advantage for Game 7 of the World Series!
Ah yes. Overall, Bud Selig oversaw many useful innovations during his long and eventful tenure as Commissioner of Baseball, but having the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series cannot be considered one of his better decisions.
Maybe the new regime under Rob Manfred will come around on this issue. Then again, they are the same people with harebrained schemes to ruin a big part of what makes baseball uniquely great–the duel between batter and pitcher–by adding pitch clocks, without even addressing what really causes games to go long, especially in the postseason: time in between innings, i.e. the commercial-break cash cow. My hopes are not high.
What’s weird about the All-Star discussion is that few people talk about the home-field advantage rule much during the World Series. I usually forget nearly everything about the All-Star Game by early August. But while the artificial significance attached to the All-Star Game hasn’t done much to improve its entertainment value, it does seem to have had an effect in determining the World Series champion.
Since the “this time it counts” rule was instituted in 2003, the team with home-field advantage has won 8 out of 12 World Series. Four of those series were sweeps, and only two have featured a Game 7, with the Cardinals winning their home game in 2011, and the Royals losing as the host of Game 7 last season. The American League has won nine All-Star Games during this span, which has resulted in five AL teams winning the Series, all of which benefited from home-field advantage. Meanwhile, the National League won all three World Series in which it had home-field advantage.
If the people running Major League Baseball really want to make the Midsummer Classic a compelling, important game, there are several more obvious steps they can take. They would need to do away with the requirement that ever team be represented. Instead, give each team a stacked 25-man roster, with a starting lineup that would be expected to play most of the game, and a starting pitcher who would be expected to go at least five innings (this would leave two managers very displeased, but hey, it’s hypothetical).
This would have the intended effect of creating an entertaining and meaningful game and would even provide what we really want from an All-Star game: a real-life fantasy baseball lineup, with the best players in the world all together on the same team and in the same game, doing their best to compete and win.
Mind you, I don’t really mind the meaningless exhibition-game format, in which players make glorified cameos rather than actually playing much baseball. It’s perfectly satisfying summer entertainment, and is fully capable of great moments like we saw last year in Derek Jeter’s swan song. But something’s got to give here. Make the All-Star Game a great game, and if not, then please, Manfred and company, please keep the least significant game of the year from impacting the most important ones.