Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.
Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?
Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.
There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.
There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.
If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.
With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?
This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?
Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.