The All-Star Game Versus “Real” Baseball

The All-Star Break was my favorite part of the MLB season as a child, but probably not for the reasons that you would suspect. My first cogent remembrances of baseball fall squarely within the steroid era, so one could easily assume that I just wanted to watch the Home Run Derby. This is true, it’s just not THE reason that I liked the All-Star break so much (as much as I cried when Troy Glaus hit zero home runs in the 2001 iteration of the Derby). What I liked the most were the few empty squares on the fridge magnet, the only consecutive ones of the whole season, where I could live my life at home without being subjected to the daily agony associated with following a MLB team intently for all 162 games.

Baseball was the dullest thing in the world. Baseball IS the dullest thing in the world, if you ask some people. There are days where I, a person who exports spreadsheets from for fun (because what’s more fun than data analysis?), think that baseball is not worth my time. I could be forgiven for having this stance on the game when I was nine; I think any nine-year-old could. I PLAYED baseball, and I would get bored during games. The All-Star Game provided a reprieve from the mundanity, punctuated with the best players alive playing a game that didn’t matter, yet it always felt like some gigantic historical event. Some old-timers were honored, and someone very important threw out the first pitch. The pageantry itself turned the game into a spectacle. It was like finding the one M&M in a deceptively packaged bag of trail mix. You wonder what joy people find in eating the walnuts and sunflower seeds and dried fruit that fill the bag.

Of course, in time you figure out that old-timers are always honored before the game (sometimes the same ones a bunch of times), and someone important always throws a lazy, ceremonial eephus pitch from halfway between the plate and the rubber. If you’ve seen enough of these things, you know that they’re a routine posing as a groundbreaking event, histrionics which would not be out of place at the Golden Globes. “And now, to honor America, please welcome [season 5 American Idol top-ten participant].” The “special” days become little but an annoyance. To know that frills of the All-Star Game ring hollow from year to year, you have to be someone who’s seen a lot of All-Star Games. In order to be someone who has seen a lot of All-Star Games, you are almost necessarily also someone who has seen a lot of other stuff, too. These are the people with the taste for the less fashionable trail mix components, and these are the people who need baseball.

The All-Star Game presents a good indicator of where you are as a baseball fan, and maybe in life. If you’re very excited for it, you probably don’t realize how unmemorable of an event it is (unless Pete Rose is decapitating Ray Fosse or the MLB intervenes to call the game a tie). It probably also means that you need a special occasion for baseball to mean something to you. As you age, you realize that a “special occasion” is more than you want out of a leisurely evening activity. You watch after work, with the guarantee that SOMETHING will happen, then the game will be over, and then you can go to sleep and wake up again, ready for more baseball because what happened the day before had no real effect on your psyche.

This is why I’m glad that football is only played once a week. Apart from the fact that everyone involved would quickly die if football was played as frequently as baseball, it remains true that football lends itself to a wide range of emotional responses from its viewers, borne out of an unpredictable nature that you simply do not find in baseball. You cannot watch football to unwind after a long day. I can’t think of a reason people would watch 162 three-hour games a year if these games were not playing a beneficial role in the lives of the fans. The All-Star Game is, by design, a disruption in the order of a baseball-watching routine. The prevailing thought then becomes less “Wow, all the best players are playing each other at once!” and more “It’s a shame that they had to get everyone out of whack just when Omar Infante was starting to make good contact for the first time in a while.” (A direct quote).

The All-Star Game signifies baseball for people who don’t really like baseball all that much. They’re the $4 Georgetown Cupcake in a world where the dessert cognoscenti can easily name a half dozen better places to get overcharged for baked goods. There’s joy to be had in a pennant race, or even a pitcher’s duel between September call-ups on hopeless teams, or even in the celebrity softball game held the day before the Game, where you might see Nelly hit a home run off of Patton Oswalt. See, you at least know that you’re not supposed to take that seriously. This realization led me to reverse my childhood stance on the All-Star Game: the days off are just days when you can’t relax and watch baseball after work (unless you’re a big Orix Blue Wave fan and are streaming the Japanese league). It’s not suitable background noise, as baseball tends to be. The theatrics then tend to betray the best quality of the game: its unobtrusiveness.