The MLB All-Star Game is here and the star-studded event will be a send-off of sorts for playoff hero and home run extraordinaire David Ortiz. However, that’s not all the game will be thanks to a decision by former Commissioner Bud Selig some years ago. Dave McCullough explains why the All-Star Game lost its way and how the home-field advantage rule could negatively impact baseball.
Disclaimer: I’m old enough to remember when Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was must-see-TV. The midsummer classic was a chance to see the greatest players in each league face off. When I was a kid, it was special to see Jim Rice step into the batter’s box against whomever the National League called their best pitcher that year.
The pinnacle was in 1999, when not only did baseball (literally) roll out the best players still alive – including Ted Williams – but the American League sent the greatest pitcher ever to the mound, where he faced the greatest home run hitters of the era (Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire), as well as a bunch of other really good hitters – and mowed them all down.
But a few short years after this peak, Commissioner Bud “Sad Sack” Selig ruined everything. In the wake of a tie – which only happened because both managers monumentally screwed up their roster and bullpen management – Selig sold a solution to the owners that could only have been dreamed up by MLB’s crack marketing team.
Deciding that the game needed to “mean something” and that something would be home-field advantage in the World Series was… among the worst decisions made by any major sports league in recent memory. Even FIFA’s decision to re-elect the obviously corrupt Sepp Blatter after he’d been exposed as dirtier than Pigpen from Peanuts was better than making homefield advantage in the World Series dependent on which league’s collection of All-Stars won an exhibition game in July. This decision has been loathed by baseball fans for more than a decade, but in true MLB fashion – “who cares what the fans think? We have a snappy marketing phrase to use!”
These days, the All-Star Game is a burden that players endure – another road trip in a season filled with them. The best part of the modern All-Star Game is that most players take their families to the festivities, giving them a chance to bring their kids onto the field. Is there anything cuter than the sons and daughters of baseball’s best players cavorting on the field with their fathers? The Home Run Derby is an unwatchable mess – except for all the kids having a great time shagging flies in the outfield – reminding us that baseball is a kid’s game. The enthusiasm of youth is the only thing about the modern All-Star Game that’s bearable.
The rest of it is tedious. Interleague play has made regular season baseball more interesting – but it has killed the allure of the All-Star Game. The greatest pitchers and hitters face off regularly in games that DO count, so the thrill of seeing the once-in-a-lifetime Pedro Martinez duel with Sammy Sosa is gone. We’ve seen Clayton Kershaw unleash his stuff with David Ortiz in the batter’s box during a game that matters in the standings. In days gone by, the fans could only see the best of the National League square off with the best of the American League during the All-Star Game – or during the World Series.
The modern All-Star Game is an exhibition like no other. The winning team earns home-field advantage in the World Series for its league, which has been a factor a few times, and a non-factor more often than not. But, that it hasn’t yet had an obvious negative impact does not mean it won’t. In fact, we’re on track to have this year be the one where it “counts” as the burgeoning juggernaut of the Chicago Cubs chugs towards the postseason.
No baseball fan needs to be told what it would mean for the Cubs to make it to, and win, the World Series. It would be the biggest story in baseball since the 2004 Red Sox exorcised their demons and finally ended their fans’ suffering. No one alive has witnessed the Cubs win a World Series. They have a chance to finish with the best record in the National League, earning home-field advantage in the NLDS and NLCS. However, unless the National League emerges victorious in tonight’s exhibition game – featuring just seven Cubs players – the Northsiders may well be on the road in games 5 and/or 7 of their best chance to win a World Series in 108 years.
The chance that the Cubs win a World Series in an American League ballpark should make everyone who loves spectacle cringe a little. Can you imagine how fevered Wrigley Field would be in a potential World Series-clinching game? You’d be able to hear the crowd from Milwaukee to Indianapolis, and every inch of ground in-between.
If the game is in Kansas City or Baltimore, it will… still count. But, will it be as special? This is what MLB doesn’t seem to understand. The moments that decide championships are too important to hinge on who wins an exhibition game. Those moments are what baseball fans dream of – Pedro vs. Sosa or the Cubs winning a World Series in Chicago. That’s what counts. Not a midsummer’s night in the middle of July, featuring matchups that matter more on a random Tuesday in April.
Dave R. McCullough has written a tribue to Dave Henderson, about baseball’s long season, and about Eduardo Rodriguez’s last start with the Red Sox.
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