By In Stuff

Star Search

MLB has tried numerous gimmicks to try to make its All-Star Game matter more. (US Presswire)

In another time, not so long ago, all you needed to do was get a few stars together and you had yourself an event. You didn’t even need a particularly good reason to get those stars together. Someone decides, “Uh, hey, let’s roast Jack Benny,” and you get Mark Spitz, Jack Carter, George Burns, Dick Martin, Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin, and, voila, it’s a show. They didn’t even have to be big stars. Get four people who had been on television at some point, put them on a boat, and that was “The Love Boat.” Have them run an obstacle course, that was “Battle of the Network Stars.” Have two or three of them tell stories about their life, that was “The Tonight Show.” There is absolutely no question that Johnny Carson was an extraordinary talent — the best host in the history of television, I would say — but a good part of the magic of “The Tonight Show” was that it was the one place you could see the stars.

Now, of course, stars are everywhere. They’re cooking, they’re selling jewelry, they dancing, they’re talking politics, they’re doing cable TV shows, they’re on commercials, they’re coming to your home to do “Death of a Salesman.” There are obviously countless shows on now that are dedicated entirely to stars — heck there are entire channels that focus on stars. You want to see stars,* you can see them any time you want.

*Family went on the Paramount Studio tour when we were in California, and the tour guide told us that the reason actors are called “stars” is because of the stars in the Paramount logo. It is probably not true — it seems “stars” was in use to describe stage actors before Paramount was founded — but it sounds true, and the 10-year-old probably enjoys passing along this tidbit more than any other piece of trivia she has picked up so far in her life.

This 24-hour access we now have to stars is particularly true in sports. For a long time, baseball’s All-Star Game was the second biggest event of the season, behind only the World Series, and it’s pretty easy to understand why. The All-Star Game might be the only time your favorite player would be on national television. It’s hard to explain to anyone who grew up after the explosion of the baseball package, what that meant. As a kid in Cleveland, there was this amazing moment of pride when they would announce the Indians player on the team, even if that player happened to be Dave LaRoche (1976), Dennis Eckersley (1977), Jim Kern (1976 and 1978), Sid Monge (1979) and, Lord help me, Jorge Orta (1980).* They would show that guy with the Indians hat, and it was the biggest moment in the world. Hey, look, it’s our guy! On the screen! Right next to Reggie Jackson!

*That was my childhood, and looking back at that list, I’m AMAZED that I became a fan of the All-Star Game. Do you associate any of those players with Cleveland? Any of them? The Indians were not good during that time, but it’s also true the best Indians players of this five-year period that I consider my childhood were Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton, Toby Harrah, Mike Hargrove, Rick Waits and Rick Manning. My favorites were Duane Kuiper, Bell, Rico Carty and Joe Charboneau. None of them were picked for the All-Star Game during this time frame. How in the heck was I supposed to root for Sid Monge?

The All-Star Game was big because these are All-Stars. You didn’t need anything else. Anytime you could see the stars play, any sport, any reason, it was amazing. For me as a kid, the Pro Bowl was amazing. The East-West game was amazing. The NBA All-Star Game was amazing. The Superstars, The Superteams, Battle of the Sexes all these All-Star games and events were rare opportunities to see the greatest players in the world do their thing. Obviously, that particular thrill is gone now — in sports, probably, even more than in pop culture. Any time Matt Cain pitches, I can watch it. Any time Giancarlo Stanton comes to the plate, I can watch it. Any time Mike Trout is on first base, I can look to see if he steals second. I can also watch every Chris Paul pass, every Arian Foster run, every Jason Spezza shot, and, for the most part, every Tiger Woods putt or Rafael Nadal forehand. We live in a golden age for sports fans, but this does mean that seeing those stars now loses a little bit of their glamour and fascination.

We’ve seen the toll this has taken on exhibition events. There are no more “Superstars” — are you kidding me? Somebody could get hurt. Remember when Robert Edwards got hurt playing flag football on a beach? The instant that happened, the very instant we saw a gifted and promising professional get hurt playing football on a beach, casually stupid exhibitions featuring athletes ended. Heck, even the Pro Bowl the last few years has been like watching a walk-through practice. And even beyond the injury question is the pointlessness. A weekly show like the old “Home Run Derby” could never work now — heck the All-Star Game Home Run Derby feels like agony after the first hour. The Pro Bowl is dead. The NBA All-Star Game is the least interesting part of All-Star Weekend, and the same is true of the NHL All-Star Game.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is the one that has tried the hardest to stay relevant — in large part, I suspect, because it plays such a big role in baseball’s history. There is nothing in any other All-Star Game to compare with Carl Hubbell’s successive strikeouts, Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse, Ted Williams hitting the eephus pitch out, Dave Parker’s throw, Fred Lynn’s grand slam or Bo Jackson’s massive center field homer. I just came up with six All-Star moments off the top of my head — it would be difficult to come up with one in any other sport.*

*I do know Jeff Blake completed the longest touchdown pass in Pro Bowl history; not sure if that record still stands.

So, baseball has tried numerous gimmicks and rule changes to make the game “matter” more. It’s taken the fan vote online, it’s added a player vote, it’s created this runoff vote, it’s tried to keep the game provocative. Well, it has made the voting process more interesting, but it has done little for the game itself. I don’t think anyone is to blame here: The very purpose of the All-Star Game — the extravaganza of seeing the best players in one place — has simply lost most of its appeal. We are left with an exhibition game where players are run in and out like it’s a game of pickup basketball. Do I want to watch Justin Verlander pitch one meaningless inning or wait three days and watch him start a game that matters? Do I want to see Ryan Braun get an at-bat against some hard throwing middle-reliever with nothing on the line, or do I want to wait until the weekend when it counts? There is nothing baseball can do about this issue. The All-Star Game — like pretty much all of these one-offs — is a casualty of the time.

The big gimmick, obviously, is giving the winning league home-field advantage during the World Series. This is pretty ridiculous if you think about it for more than a few seconds and has been mocked appropriately but, beyond the mocking, I have to say I don’t really mind it. The old way of alternating home-field advantage was even more stupid. Sure, they could give home field to the team with the best record, but there are problems with that (strength of division and league are so different, plus it seems the late timing could create some issues). They could give home-field advantage to league with best record in inter-league play, but there are problems with that too. There’s no perfect way to do it, so I don’t really care if they give it to the All-Star Game winner. It’s just one step up from a coin flip, but maybe like Geena Davis says in “A League Of Their Own”: It’s an important step.

But saying that the home-field advantage gimmick isn’t particularly harmful isn’t the same as saying that it adds much fun to the game. I don’t think it adds anything at all. Watching the remaining All-Stars on the bench play in the last couple of innings with home-field advantage on the line is sort of the opposite of enjoyable for me; it’s like watching the bubble players in an NFL preseason game try to put the game-winning drive together (or stop it) for the right to play on Monday Night Football in December. It is incongruous and feels absurd.

This is a personal opinion: I would kind of like to see baseball go the other way. Instead of trying to add meaning to the game, it seems to me, it should celebrate the fact that the game doesn’t mean anything. If it does that, it can take some chances. I think the All-Star Game is the perfect time to try all sorts of things that fans might like to see, just once. It should try full-fledged replay. It should try robotic umpiring — with the umpires wearing special headphones that beep when a pitch is called a strike by the computer. It should play with a juiced ball one year, a dead ball another. It should choose a pile of All-Stars and have the two managers draft them. It should have players wear the old wool uniforms, it should have them use the old gloves, it should make it more interactive — there are a million things it could do to make the game fun and tie it to history without changing the rules. I think it should try all of them.

I’m not saying these things would work and would make the All-Star Game big again. I think that ship has sailed. Twenty-four million people watched in 1991, and 11 million people watched last year. That was the lowest rated All-Star Game ever, and I think it’s probably only going to get worse. But 11 million viewers is still a lot — it’s still the biggest sporting event on television between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of football — and I think there are ways to keep baseball fans at least somewhat interested. But I think it’s telling that, right now, the most fun part about the All-Star Game is arguing about it before it even gets played.

More on that later this afternoon.

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43 Responses to Star Search

  1. doc says:

    I like the idea of making the game more interactive. We could let the fans (in the stands) make some decisions–bunt, or not…steal, or not…who to pinch-hit with…Appoint a fan “Pitching Coach for a Day” to make decisions about changing pitchers…Didn’t the St. Louis Browns do this sort of thing once?

  2. Dan says:

    They should do a Rock and Jock game with hotspots and stuff.

  3. Jim says:

    1. Joe, I amazed you are aware of Jason Spezza. 2) The NHL All-Star game has had a player draft for the last couple of years and it’s pretty popular. They award a new car to the last player chosen. Of course I assume you already know that because you are aware of Jason Spezza.

  4. John says:

    What is still cool about the All-Star Game and always will be: the player introductions. You can tell that that moment means a lot to the players, especially the first-timers.

  5. Crowhop says:

    Great perspective.

    I’d like to see them drop the roster down to 25. Make it “elite” access only again.
    50% manager vote. 25% fan vote. 25% player vote.
    Fans vote on the last Position Player and last Pitcher chosen from a selected field.

    MLBPA would never go for it and doubt Bud would either, but it would make the game elite again.

    • Rob says:

      Disagree. How many errors do the fans make each year? A couple. The team Managers picking their own players is the thing that has to go.

  6. joobie says:

    i wish they would get rid of the internet voting. it just makes homerism worse.

  7. Brian says:

    As a Royals fan, I’m frustrated that we’ll never have more than one All-Star, despite guys like Alcides Escobar leading all shortstops in batting average and defensive awesomeness. Do we really need to see 8 Yankees in the game every year?

  8. Frank says:

    I agree with Crowhop. There was more fan interest in the days when Pete Rose, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, and others were still playing in the game in extra innings. Nowadays, we get Dan Uggla making three errors in extra innings. If the roster were limited and the managers had to make decisions like it was a real game, including with pitchers, then the fans would keep interest.

  9. To me, what always set the MLB All Star Game apart was that it was the only one of the big four that resembled its sport as played the rest of the season, only played at a higher level. Unlike the Pro Bowl or the NHL All Star Game, where there’s no hitting, or the NBA All Star Game, where there’s no defense, All Star pitchers were always trying to get All Star hitters out, and All Star fielders were trying to turn two with a man on base. The players were playing to win, and the managers were managing to win, even before it “counted.”

    For me, the decline of the MLB All Star Game has nothing to do with the ubiquity of baseball. I’m still excited about the prospect of Matt Cain facing David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton, and Prince Fielder in one inning. For me, it’s that managers have gone from mostly playing the starting position players all game and getting two innings out of the starters to “make sure everyone gets to play.” The iconic moments in All Star Game history happened because the best in the league were playing hard against one another; the All Star Game has lost its luster for so many of us because a close game is more likely to be decided by an Adam Jones-Joel Hanrahan matchup than by Joey Votto facing Justin Verlander.

    • Rob says:

      Starting pitchers would throw three innings and starting position players would play at least half the game, maybe the whole thing. I agree that should be brought back.

  10. In other words, “What Frank said.”

  11. Dinky says:

    This sentence needs editing:

    The All-Star Game might be the only time you would see your favorite player would be on national television.

    When the All-Star game started, baseball players made so “little” that they frequently worked second jobs or went barnstorming in the off season. The risk of playing one extra game was trivial. Today, the risk is enormous. Because of that risk, you have players with marginal injuries choosing three extra days of healing. Starting pitchers don’t pitch more than three innings, or is it two innings, no, one inning. If a starting pitcher has to miss a regular season start because he threw three innings in an exhibition, it could cost his team many many millions of dollars if they miss the playoffs by one game. That led to a need for more pitchers on the roster, and that ship has sailed: we are never going to return to 25 man rosters.

    Basketball and football celebrate aspects of their sports: best 3 point shooter, best dunking, run, pass, and kick competitions. Baseball has been singularly uncreative: the home run derby isn’t baseball, it’s batting practice. So let’s make the All-Star game a true celebration of baseball.

    Play the first five innings with the best fielders (one vote) and the best hitters (voted separately). Hitters get voted in groups: table setters (OBP/Speed players only) must bat first, second, and ninth; everybody else gets put third through eighth, in vote order to determine the lineup. Best hitters are position independent.

    Anybody winning both hitting and fielding plays the last four innings, when the game’s on the line, with some other ranking to decide who gets to play the last half (say, lowest combined position at fielding and hitting for the position). Every team must have either a best hitter, best fielder, or best overall on the roster.

    Who wouldn’t want to see Peter Bourjos field for five innings? Maybe even have the top basestealer in each league usable as a pinch runner in the first five innings (against the great defensive catcher who doesn’t hit enough to make the ASG) who must try to steal sometime in the next at bat (assuming the batter doesn’t hit the first pitch).

    That would celebrate baseball. Fans votes pick the starting lineups. That would be some of the best baseball ever played, with the best fielders, hitters, and stealers joining the pitchers. That would give hope to the good field no hit kids, the speedsters, the sluggers with no fielding ability, that they too could make it in baseball.

  12. Pete Ridges says:

    Jeff Blake, 93 yards, to Yancey Thigpen. What a great record. Check out…

    It’s a year out of date, and the last two pages may be the most boring thing ever written about pro football, but before that there’s some great stuff.

    Quick, who scored the most career Pro Bowl touchdowns? The most points? The most kickoff returns? The most sacks? Are you allowed to sack the quarterback in the Pro Bowl? Apparently so.

    My favourite bit is where it says that Bruce Matthews missed four Pro Bowls that he was selected to. Is this a record? It doesn’t say. Is this the same Bruce Matthews who played 229 consecutive NFL games? It could well be.

  13. They should allow the starters to re-enter the game. They have that rule in high school baseball (at least they did in TX when I played 20 years ago). That would allow you to bring in the big stars in the big moments at the end. Otherwise, I like all the subbing. I still like the All-Star Game. Maybe because I dont have big sports packages and only get to see the national games.

  14. Yeager says:

    It must be close to the All Star game because here come these same old articles again. You’d think me and my buddies are the only people on planet earth that get together to watch this every year.

  15. Mikey says:

    The two most common reasons cited for the decline in ASG viewership are:

    1. The stars are everywhere now. There’s nothing special about the ASG because the stars are exposed constantly.

    2. Nobody has ever heard of at least half of these guys.

    Which is it? I mean, you can’t be both obscure AND overexposed. But I guarantee you’ll hear both of these reasons cited between now and next Tuesday.

    I actually believe TV viewership will be up this year. Fewer injured All-Stars and last year’s ASG faced a Mexican national team game in the Copa America, a fact that goes unnoticed by 99.999% of people covering or commenting on the ASG but that had a real impact on the TV rating.

  16. Rufus says:

    Play base ball like it was meant to be played, with 1860 rules: no gloves, fair foul, can’t overrun first base, one bounce rule, no sliding and NO UMPIRES! It’s a gentlemen’s game, let the players decide close plays. Oh, and fines of 25 (thousand, not cents) for anyone caught swearing, spitting or showing skin. There are ladies present! (For those unaware, it’s called Vintage Base ball, yes two words).

  17. Stephen says:

    I wrote this in your comments last year, Joe, with research that I can’t reproduce on my phone at the airport right now – but what kept the ASG vibrant inthe 60s-70s was that virtually all the African-American (& Afro-Carribean) all-stars were National Leaguers – in keeping with the rates at which the leagues embraced integration. The all-star game was played at least into the late 70s by men who considered it a referendum on integration.

    • Rob says:

      I don’t see this. Dick Allen, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue. Plenty of African Americans in the AL.

    • Cheryl says:

      The comment is true about the 60s. Only Robinson was in the AL by the mid-60s. The others came up or were traded in ’69 or later. The NL undoubtedly integrated earlier than the AL. Even the Cubs, who were the last NL team to integrate had Ernie Banks and Billy Williams throughout the 60s. Add in Clemente, Aaron, Mays, Bob Gibson, Marichal and even Lou Brock and the AL had practically no one to compete in the early 60s.

  18. Frank says:

    I really think that, if only one manager won an All-Star game by playing the starting position players for all nine innings, it would set a new trend.

  19. Gadfly says:

    Interleague play has detracted a lot from the popularity of the All-Star Game, IMO.

    Thanks, Bud.

    • Rob says:

      Not when you can catch every team on ESPN, at least on SportCenter each and every day. That’s where everyone sees all the players. I’ve never understood the angst around interleague play. I think it’s great & doesn’t hurt the AS game either.

  20. simon says:

    Maybe the fans should vote in the ENDERS instead of the starters. In my opinion, and a lot of what is already written shows that I am not alone, the game stinks because the field is full of semi-stars by the 7th inning.

    Let the manager start the game with whoever he wants, but by the 7th inning, the 8 positions on the field have to be taken by the players who were voted in (so that they can each get at least one at-bat). If the game goes into extras, he can stick with the voters or add subs as he sees fit. Want to sub Jose Bautista into the game in the 3rd? Fine (and very welcome), but you know he is playing until the 9th.

  21. Vidor says:

    “Gadfly” above points out a true fact that I’m surprised Joe doesn’t mention: Selig’s stupid interleague play is what has cut the heart out of the All-Star Game more than anything else. I remember a decade or so ago when some writer mentioned that Barry Bonds faced Roger Clemens in an ASG, and that would have been more cool and awesome if they hadn’t faced each other like a month before in Yankee Stadium in an interleague game. Getting the best stars to face each other in a special game is less special if the best stars already face each other on a regular basis. Thanks, Bud. There’s nothing you won’t ruin.

    “plus it seems the late timing could create some issues”

    Not sure how this is a factor. MLB already does not know who will be the participants in the World Series until a few days before the event.

    • KHAZAD says:

      I don’t know that interleague play hurt the all star game. I think it was seriously wounded by player movement between leagues prior to that. You don’t necessarily identify all the players as career AL or NL guys as you once did.

      I think what interleague hurts are division races, as the teams in those races often play completely different teams, and often one has a much tougher schedule in the other league than their competitor. If you are going to have interleague, do away with the silly “natural rival” (and I say that as a fan of a team that actually has one- many don’t) and have everyone in the division play the same schedule each year, but change the teams up every year, like football, so that fans know they will not get the chance to see that team play theirs for a few years.

  22. Ted says:

    Your assumption about Paramount and stars is correct Joe- Oxford English Dictionary places its etymology as originally in the context of theater, with the first usage appearing in print in 1779.

    Paramount was founded in 1912 as the Famous Players Film Company, a bit after that 1779 date.

  23. I like the idea of trying new things out in the All Star Game. How ’bout no intentional walks and no sacrifice bunts?

  24. Jack says:

    “The 2016 All-Star Game has been awarded to Dyersville, Iowa.”

  25. Ed McDonald says:

    I love the idea of picking sides before the game. That would be incredible.

  26. Vidor says:

    I’m warming to Rufus’s idea above of playing by old rules. How about the National League rules of 1876? We haven’t had an “eight balls and two strikes” count in a while. Could pitchers learn to be fast-pitch softball pitchers for a game? Would standing 45 feet away from the plate get them killed?

  27. Rob says:

    Robot umpires, juiced balls…. Joe, are you on crack?

  28. KHAZAD says:

    I definitely agree that the all star game was more special before the glut of sports on TV. I live in KC, and my grandfather took me to the 1973 all star game when I was 8. At that time, there was one “Game of the week” on Saturday. You even had to follow your home team on the radio. There were no highlight shows until TWIB in 1977.

    I was beyond excited to go and see the great players that today would be overexposed and over analyzed nightly. There were 18 future Hall of Famers (so far) playing in the game, including Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Players who were still alive from the very first all star game were there. Many of them, in both leagues, I had never seen play. Some of them, I never saw play again.

    I am going to the game next week,because I can and because it is cool for me to see both games. I know that part of the reason the excitement is not the same is that I am 47 instead of 8, but a good portion of it is that I am intimately familiar with every player on both teams. I see their highlights every night. I have endless access to games all over the country on the radio, TV and internet. I can go to a game I missed and look at the play by play or read the game thread on a team website to see what the real time reaction was on a certain play or situation. (Instead of waiting impatiently after school for the evening Star to be delivered just so I could see the box score- in those days, you didn’t even get many of the box scores in the morning paper.)

    I have probably actually seen every player in this game (counting TV and internet video as seeing) more than I had seen Amos Otis play when I saw the first one- and he was on my home town team.

  29. Unknown says:

    Kern and Eck pitched in 1977 3-consecutive scoreless innings, which is still my ASG highlight.

  30. Ralph C. says:

    I think the question that was never answered is this: Who is the All-Star Game really for? Is it for the fans, giving them a chance to see their favorite players? Is it to honor the best baseball players in the Major Leagues? Is it to award the best players during the first-half of the season? Is the All-Star Game a combination of all of these elements?

    I used to enjoy the MLB All-Star Game because, to me, it was a reflective break in the season– a chance to see players I wouldn’t always see, and who were on opposing teams, to come together. I used to see the game as a rest stop in the season, where it didn’t matter if you played for the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees or Royals– the players put aside their rivalries and such, playing the game for fun. They would give a good effort because of their pride and/or ego. There was a lightness, an easy-going-ness to the game that seems to be lost now, to me. And, well, I am not a kid anymore, so I’ve lost a lot of my wide-eyed wonderment.

    MLB made it means something… and took the fun out of it.

  31. This won’t fix anything, but I always thought voting on the All-Star managers would have been cool.

  32. jn3 says:

    Joe Torre screwed the All Star Game forever, by ensuring everyone got to play in 2002 because he was always criticized for having 1,000,000 Yankees on the team…”oh look, he’s letting Barry Zito pitch 1/3 of an inning.”

    He ran out of pitchers, Bud was embarrassed, Bud “made it count”…the rest is history.

  33. Brian says:

    Anybody think maybe the reason we no longer relate to these All Star games is because we’re not 10 anymore? Even while reading Joe’s nostalgia, what’s the common theme there? He was a kid. Kids like this stuff. I bet most of the people who will watch this year will be kids. Maybe this stuff hasn’t changed as much as we think it has. Maybe it’s us who have changed.

  34. Seeing today’s hitters and pitchers play a game with a dead ball would be beautiful.

  35. I really think that, if only one manager won an All-Star game by playing the starting position players for all nine innings, it would set a new trend.


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