In 2002 the All-Star game ended in a tie, embarrassing Major League Baseball as their big mid-season showcase was exposed as the shameless exhibition game that it had become. “Purists” decried any game that ends in a tie, old-timers fondly remembered how much Pete Rose cared about the game (when he separated Ray Fosse’s shoulder in the All-Star game in 1970), and people in general laughed at the predicament of a meaningless game ending in a meaningless fashion.
There were two possible approaches to addressing the problem:
- Turn it into a “real” exhibition game
- Somehow make the game “count”, thus giving the players incentives to play it as a “real” game
Baseball opted for the second one, trying to make the game count for something, by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner. From 2003-2011, the American League had won every All-Star game, and the World Series was equally split (4-4) between NL and AL winners, so making the game count had little to no effect on the World Series.
But what about combining the two bullet points? Here is my (mostly) off-the-cuff proposal (truly in the spirit of baseball-related “random neural firings”):
1. The All-Star Team is voted on by the fans, as it happens now. Eight positions players and an American League DH plus one starting pitcher and one reliever are highlighted as that league’s all-star team. But they don’t play a game–they are just named to the All-Star team. Have them walk out on the field before the game is played, receive the hearty round of applause, let them hang out together for the weekend (which they seem to enjoy), but don’t make them play. Who needs the mid-season rest the most? The stars do, of course. So recognize them for having had a stellar first half of the season, and let them have three days off.
2. You only get to play in the actual All-Star game once per career. If you are voted in the fans your first time, then that is the game you get to play. If not, the players vote on the best never-played-in-an-All-Star-game players, and the manager chooses a a 30-man roster from these players. These players actually play in the All-Star game. Fresh faces every year who still care about winning every time they step on the field, and might have something to prove. Or late-bloomers who have never shone before finally getting the recognition deserve.
3. Pay the actual All-Star game players (and manager) $1 million each for winning the game, and nothing for losing. Because the game is played only by first time all stars, the money might actually still be meaningful. Most of them will be younger players, who will be more likely to play the game hard. The only limitation from a real game would be that no pitcher can throw more than three innings (thus avoiding overuse of a young arm).
4. Give home field advantage to the league with best aggregate interleague record, rather than who wins the All-Star game.
There are probably obvious holes in this, as I haven’t really thought it through all the way. But right now the All-Star game is mostly glorified batting practice and hasn’t meant anything to the players, really, for a very long time. By playing a game with relatively unknown players (Joey Votto when he had his breakout year) or exciting newcomers (Harper and Trout this year), you might make the game more watchable, too.
So how would you fix the All-Star game?