Originally written on StraitPinkie.com  |  Last updated 10/24/14
Once upon the 1950s and 60s, baseball’s All-star game was a midsummer night’s dream. It was a collision of titans, as never before seen, rivals meeting on the battlefield to decide, once and for all, which league was best. It always counted –an annual measurement of men. It has since lost its luster. On Tuesday, July 16, familiar faces from the American and National leagues will compete beneath the sleepless lights of New York City with home field advantage in the World Series on the line. But missing will be the fire that fueled Pete Rose to pummel Ray Fosse in his quest for home. Lost will be an outfield like Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Mays sharing space, but more importantly, a desire to bolster National League supremacy. Gone will be the buzz that used to surround the game. It’s not the players’ faults. Back then, interleague play didn’t exist. The All-Star game truly did represent the only chance for the leagues to compete against the other until the World Series in the fall. They were two separate entities coalescing on a single night –a rarity for fans and players alike. In 2013, interleague play happens literally every day of the season. The novelty is gone. This reached its apex in 2002, when the All-Star game ended in a 7-7 tie and Commissioner Bud Selig waving his hands in the air like he just didn’t care –but he did care. A few years later, his office decided to “make it count.” Since, home field advantage at the World Series has been the prize. But the game still feels like a Little League exhibition. Everyone plays. Everyone pitches. In an attempt to become more of a showcase and less of a game, it becomes neither. It’s time to fix that. And here are five ways to do that:   The 2002 featured bro hugs, but no winners. One| Making it Count Bud Selig’s World Series Compromise, his promise of “making it count,” has created a monster out of the All-Star Game. The fate of championship rings and October dreams can now rest in the hands of players on teams that will never sniff the playoffs in 2013. My point can be summed up in a single, ridiculous truth: Jason Castro the Astro could be the difference, THIS season, between who plays Game Seven of the World Series at home. That has to stop. Because home-field advantage matters. Scott Lindholm of Beyond the Scorecards recently calculated that in the playoff era (when World Series teams weren’t simply determined by season-pennant winners), teams with home-field advantage win two-thirds of the time. In juxtaposition, teams with the best record for the entire season, in that same span, won exactly half the time. Home soil matters. Via Scott Lindholm of Beyond the Scorecard But Bud Selig was also right to see that the game had lost any sense of urgency. The will to win had dissipated once the game no longer represented rival leagues tugging for pride. I think that spirit of the midsummer classic can be restored. How? Make the All-Star game impact the AL/NL rivalry. Every season, baseball teams play “cross-town” rivalry games with members of the other league, such as the Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees, or the less intense Padres-Mariners bloodbath (sunshine versus coffee). What if the winning league of the All-Star game got to play all of those games at home the next season? It’s only four games. The impact isn’t as catastrophic as the World Series, but the impact is surprisingly large. Every level of a baseball organization would be affected by a schedule that gave them two extra games on the road. For management, the format could hurt their bottom line. In 2009, Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle estimated that teams made between $25 million and $149 million from gate receipts (the Yankees being the highest). Per home game, that’s a range of $308,642 to $1.84 million. Even two games lost could be quite a dip in precious revenue. For managers and teams, the format could hurt their standings. Jack Jones, a sports gambling guru, computed that between 2006 and 2010, home teams win 55% of the time, road teams 45%. Those two extra road games, ever-so-slightly, could mean a one or two game swing in a team’s season. One or two games was the difference between the A’s and Rangers last year, and the margin that led to the infamous 2011 collapse of the Red Sox and Braves. Every game matters. And for players, extra travel is never desired. On the line in the All-Star game would be the chance to avoid two road trips, two nights away from home in a hotel room, and to gain two nights in the bed they know, on the schedule they know, in the facilities they know. For creatures of habit, that prize, however small it seems, is huge. It’s an All-Star game incentive that could fuel performance without having dangerous, unfair implications on the games that matter most in October. The system for determining home-field advantage has always been flawed, but that is a problem for another post. For now, consider this option, which would actually affect every player from every team for the next season, rather than punishing a future championship contender because a Miami Marlin struck out in the ninth. Just be careful when the game counts. As Ray Fosse discovered, when it counts, it hurts.   Cal Ripken made memories in 2001. But should he have been there? Two| The Right to Vote This is the American Pastime. And nothing is more American than a flawed voting system, uninformed voters, and voters casting their ballots multiple times. I realize that. But Al Gore isn’t a first-baseman, so let’s reconsider baseball’s approach. For one, the managers have too much responsibility. As if it isn’t enough to be tasked with leading a Major League club in a chase for October, All-Star managers also have to elect the reserves and pitching staffs of the midsummer squads. The logic is that they stand the best chance of making an informed decision. That logic is false. Consider how narrow the scope is for Jim Leyland, AL Manager. Leading the Detroit Tigers, he has played 13 of the 15 AL teams. But many of those series are no more than three games, games in which he is likely hyperfocused on certain pitchers, certain matchups, etc. These small-sample sizes aren’t enough to decide who deserves reward for an entire half of the season, and you also can’t expect Leyland to spend his nonexistent downtime doing statistical analysis on potential candidates. For this same reason, the player-vote is equally as ineffective. While you would expect them to do well in evaluating their peers, the opposite is true. Much like the fans, they lean toward veterans, good personalities, and names they recognize. Why? Because they aren’t watching many games beyond the ones they play –they aren’t seeing these players perform. Fans and players alike, instead, vote for their teammates or favorite team’s players, for names they know, or they vote based on basic stats like RBIs and Wins that don’t tell us much. The result is All-Stars like this: Sandy Alomar, Jr. in 1991 (.217 batting average, 0 HR), Roger Pavlik in 1996 (10-2 record…but a 5.16 ERA), Cal Ripken, Jr. in 2001(.217 batting average, 4 HR, but admittedly a memorable AS Game moment), and Jason Varitek in 2008 (.222 average, .122 in June). Hell, even Derek Jeter got votes this season. He’s played as many games for the Yankees this year as I have –and I didn’t even get a write-in vote. So who should vote? Not to evoke the ever-terrible modern media, but I think people paid to watch many games of all teams should have the highest percentage of ballots, i.e. Major League GMs, scouts, and national baseball writers/reporters. Coaches and players should still have a say, but the product on the field will be better if the people choosing the players have actually seen them play several times. Or we could leave it up to the Supreme Court. That worked out well.   The Dodgers want you to #VotePuig Three| The Right to Vote, Volume II One aspect of the midsummer election should remain in the jurisdiction of the fans. The “Final Vote,” with its inception in 2002, gave fans a chance to select the one snub they’d most like to see in the All-Star Game. It’s a brilliant ploy for baseball to let the fans decide who they want to see. It should be exciting –a debate and competition on who most deserves a coveted distinction. Unfortunately, managers in the past decade have often given fans a choice that rather than rendering excitement, renders yawns, head-scratches, and proverbial “WTFs.” For example, in 2007, fans got to decide the last AL roster spot with choices such as Hideki Okajima (WHO WON), Jeremy Bonderman, Pat Neshek, and Kelvim Escobar. It’s a list that barely belongs in a minor-league clubhouse, much less Cooperstown. This year, Jim Leyland trolled fans by letting them pick his SIXTH relief pitcher –household names such as Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Tanner Scheppers, and Joaquin Benoit make up the ballot. This is only awesome if one of two things happen: 1) it’s actually David Robinson, Spurs Hall-of-Famer, that comes in to pitch, or 2) Hashtag-Yeppers-Scheppers starts trending worldwide in the lead up to tomorrow’s deadline. Otherwise, it’s a snorefest. And it doesn’t have to be. Even the more exciting votes, such as this year’s run-off between NL young-bloods Yasiel Puig and Freddie Freeman, are too limiting. So I propose a new format. Let each team, through a player vote, nominate a snub from their clubhouse that they feel should be an All-Star. For example, the Reds may nominate Jay Bruce, Sin-Shoo Choo, or Corky Miller’s mustache. That’s 15 players per league. Let the MLB office select a 16th, exciting prospect. Then do it Madden-vote style. Set up a bracket, and let the fans decide. Rather than this week-long snorefest, each day would bring new results, and the final matchup in each league would ultimately produce the player fans most want to see. It gives the MLB much-needed, and constant, exposure, while also adding some intrigue an excitement to a concept that’s lost its way. Imagine the players who could have filled out the AL Bracket. Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria (.285/.361 OBP/17 HR/50 RBI/3.5 WAR), Oakland’s Josh Donaldson (.316/.385 OBP/15 HR/58 RBI/4.2 WAR) and Texas’s Adrian Beltre (.319/.362 OBP/20 HR/52 RBI/3.2 WAR) would all rustle up more attention than Joaquin Benoit. And more importantly, they’re also more deserving. That format feels more like the American way –brackets, people’s choice, constant, instant results. The current format feels like having a Presidential election, but having to choose between Anthony Wiener, Kim Kardashian, and Prince Fielder’s sweaty athletic supporter. All of these, and the current Final Vote system, have something in common. They feel dirty. Prince Fielder brought some sizzle back to a Home-Run Derby that had cooled.   Four| Hitting a Home-Run With the competitive fire of the game restored, and Commissioner due to offer me a job any moment now, let’s get to the silly stuff.  Part of All-Star Break’s success, and entertainment, lies within the mini-games. And no mini-game is bigger than the Home Run Derby. Puberty brings three certainties to young boys and girls: hair in new places, growth, and an increasing disinterest in the Home Run Derby. Simply put, the constant long balls become a little boring after three hours when you aren’t young enough to find it impossibly awesome. And this had been reflected in television ratings for years. But last year’s tweak in the Home Run competition actually reversed that downward spiral. The new pick’em, street ball, format seemed to intrigue the audience young and old. TV ratings went up from 2011, and digital ratings (mostly thanks to ESPN3.com) went up between 15 and 20 percent. It was a step in the right direction –it felt like a competition when the players were picking sides. Let’s step it up a notch. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci already suggested a bracket system of 16 players, in which players would face off in the 10-out rounds. But that can still lead to monotony. Players take pitches, and 10-out rounds turn into marathons. Using the bracket set-up, what if each face-off was a race to 5 home-runs? Think of it like penalty kicks, where players would alternate in smaller, three-out rounds. The one who reached five in the fewest swings would move on. It would add to urgency, and reward those who give us fireworks rather than pacing themselves. That hasn’t been the case in the past. The current format has often punished the most exciting bombers. In 2007, Vladimir Guerrero won despite Alex Rios hitting more total home runs. In 2008, it was even more ridiculous; Justin Morneau beat Josh Hamilton despite hitting…thirteen…less home-runs that night. That’s no fun. And home-runs should be fun. Not drug-induced. Not slow. Fun.   The skills challenge may be strange. But it beats watching Dean Cain play softball. Five| Enough with Celebrity Softball There’s room for a better  event to make the All-Star spectacle special. The NBA has the three-point contest, and the skills competition. The NHL has players trying to boast the quickest puck. And the NFL needs extra ratings like I need wisdom teeth, so forget about them for once. Celebrity softball doesn’t hold a candle to those events. If I wanted to watch 50-year-old retirees and uncoordinated celebrities run around on sand, I’d live in Florida. It’s just not exciting. The NBA has a celebrity game, as well. But at least the former players and celebrities can usually run around without requiring oxygen tanks and medical attention. Baseball should follow in the path of the three-point competition. The TV audience may be small, but even the smallest lure brings more eyes to the game, creates more buzz, and creates new household names. Think of the 90s kids who learned to love Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller because of those racks of money balls. Imagine how fun this would be: I call it The Speed-D Competition. Trademark still pending. The premise is simple, but exciting. Teams of two –a pitcher, and a fielder. They face off. One team takes the field while the non-pitcher bats for the other team. They get one swing; the ball could end up anywhere in the stadium. Then, it’s a race for home. If they score, they get a point. If their tagged out, the defense does. In the event of a 1-1 or 0-0 tie, the tiebreaker is fastest time around the bases, or fastest tag-out. Just imagine the possibilities, such as Jered Weaver-Mike Trout vs. Stephen Strasburg-Bryce Harper. Tell me you wouldn’t watch Harper chase Trout down the third base line. It’d be even better than seeing sausage race across the sand. It’d be high octane; it’d be magic.   And ultimately, that’s what the All-Star game, and break, is all about. The magic. Once upon a time, long ago, it had the allure of a spectacle you could only see once a year –the stars of two separate galaxies colliding in space. That intangible feeling is tough to resurrect. But sometimes, to recover history, you have to take steps forward. Even baseball can’t hide from the 21st Century. So let the All-stars, and this dull midsummer tradition, rediscover its shine.
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