Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is a mess.
Yes, that's right -- the original All-Star Game, once a crown jewel of the sport, has become something that players go out of their way to avoid, forced to "count" for something by a clueless commissioner, and a place where some of the best pitchers aren't allowed to pitch because (horrors!) something might happen to them if they threw an inning two days after they made a start, on a day when they might have thrown that many pitches in a side bullpen session.
Here are some suggestions to restore the glory that was once the Midsummer Classic.
"This time, it counts."
No, Bud, no. This was one of the worst ideas you've had during your commissionership, made because of the ridiculous tie game in 2002 at your home park in Milwaukee. Back in the 1960s and '70s, when many players played the entire game and there was still an intense rivalry between the two leagues, the game was played more like a regular-season game. But now, with players opting out left and right and few playing more than three innings, the All-Star Game seems more like a split-squad spring training game. It's not like any other game. It should not determine World Series home field -- the two are completely unrelated.
Stop this now, Bud. You've made the worst excuse possible for doing it this way:
We can't wait until September 30th or October 1st to determine where the World Series is going to be played. You have thousands of hotel rooms to book and a lot of other things and right now we take a chance. But at least you know it's going to be in a league and our people can work on that.
Hotel rooms? Hotel rooms? That's the reason "it counts"? No, Bud, no. If you've got a problem booking hotel rooms, why not ask your NHL and NBA counterparts, who manage to get hotel rooms booked for their Finals even though the dates of those series aren't known eight months ahead of time, as yours are.
Hotel rooms. Dumb. Stop "this time it counts". Now.
By my count, the following players chosen for the All-Star Game aren't going to play: Ryan Braun, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, James Shields, CC Sabathia, David Price, Chipper Jones, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels.
Really? Really? You're selected for your sport's signature game and you won't play? I understand some of these players are legitimately injured and can't play. But the idea that a pitcher who started on Sunday can't throw an inning two days later is patently ridiculous. Also, Aramis Ramirez was asked to replace Polanco and turned down the invitation, saying he couldn't "change arrangements" for the break that quickly. Hey, A-Ram -- sorry your family was already coming to Chicago from the Dominican to spend the break with you. I'm thinking you make enough money to fly them to Phoenix for a couple of days.
In a related change...
No more fan voting.
Getting fans involved in voting has been highly popular. But that's part of the problem -- teams with high attendance tend to get a lot of players voted on to the teams. That's why this year's voting winners were filled with Yankees and Phillies names. Derek Jeter, great as his career has been, is not having an All-Star season in 2011, and perhaps his opt-out admits that. In 1957, there was a ballot-stuffing All-Star voting scandal that resulted in seven Reds players being chosen for the team, until those votes were nullified. Fan voting was taken away until 1970.
And managers shouldn't be allowed to stack their teams with their own players, as the Giants' Bruce Bochy appears to have done. This process needs to be less filled with nepotism and players that casual fans have heard of, and have more of who is actually having an All-Star season. If not for Ryan Braun's injury, Andrew McCutchen, having a terrific year for the feel-good story of the first half, the Pirates, would have been left off.
Maybe some statistical measures should choose the players. Or it be left to a committee of experts, including SABR members.
But the current system is broken.
It's an exhibition game. Try something new.
I hesitate to recommend anything that's been tried -- and derided -- in another league, but the NHL once had "North America vs. the World" as their format. It seemed popular for a while, but the league dumped it. MLB already plays USA vs. World for the Futures Game -- why not play this format for the All-Star Game? It would at least create some buzz about a game that has lost some luster. And while we're at that, get the Futures Game out of the Sunday time slot, and as Jeff Passan at Yahoo suggested, move it to Monday preceding the Home Run Derby. Passan has some other good suggestions, including making the ridiculously late 8:50 p.m. ET starting time of the All-Star Game earlier.
The Midsummer Classic should be just that -- "classic". Right now, with players not even wanting to participate, why bother? Make some of these changes to again generate interest in what was once a great spectacle.