Amidst this flurry of PR disaster, MLB understandably decides that they have to do something to make up for the embarrassment everyone suffered in the commissioner’s own backyard. There’s just one problem: it’s still an exhibition game plopped down in the middle of the actual regular season schedule. This leaves a rather limited set of options for making adjustments to the game. You can’t very well pressure the pitchers to pitch more innings, because that starts to affect the regular season games, nor do you want to change the practice of trying to get everyone playing time, because that alienates the fans (mostly kids) who want to see the players on their favorite team. So you come up with what seems like a great idea for approximately ten seconds: make it count!
Of course, this idea is immediately derided by the same people whose sensibilities were offended by an exhibition game ending in a tie. The All-Star game should matter, they say, it just shouldn’t have any affect on the regular season. Everyone treats it like a meaningless exhibition, they claim, what with every team being required to have a representative and starters being pulled midway between games, but attaching home field advantage in the World Series to the outcome of the All-Star Game? That’s insane! Doesn’t Selig understand that this is just an exhibition game?!?
The fact of the matter is that, by and large, there’s no winning with the people so inclined to be reactionary complainers because, at base, they’re engaged in a very public battle with their own neurotic inability to grow up past the age of ten years old (seriously, just imagine how many fewer silly controversies there’d be in the game today if ten year old Bob Costas had taken a liking to hockey instead of baseball). The problem is that the differences between then and now have been created by fundamental sea changes in the business off the game that aren’t going to be outdone. The players have been economically empowered, and aren’t officially considered to be chattel anymore. Media technology has made it easier for fans to watch more baseball games on a daily basis, and we’re no longer limited to just the local radio broadcast and national game of the week. The landscape of the 1960′s is, thankfully, gone, but that’s not something that a certain set of self absorbed media people can resist, so they lash out incoherently at all of the things that are different than they used to be, the things that would make ten year old Bob Costas cry for weeks on end.
Anyway, you can rip Selig and MLB for making the All-Star game “count” all you want, but the fact of the matter remains that a) people really did have a conniption fit when an exhibition game ended in a tie ten years ago and, b) they’ve also complained about basically every sensible change they’ve made to the game since as well. Expanded rosters? More pitchers? Watering down the game. A universal DH rule, so that you don’t have to burn bench players in pinch hitting roles? You might as well just tell ten year old Bob Costas that Santa Claus isn’t real and professional football players will one day celebrate scoring touchdowns while you’re at it.
Anyway, the fact of the matter is that, ultimately, the problem with the All-Star game is us, the fans. As a group, a large number of baseball fans are simply obsessed with a mythical past Golden Age that never actually existed, except in the whitewash memories of Bob Costas and his cohort of media colleagues. Maybe the All-Star game really was special back then, because the players needed the extra money in the winter when they were working minimum wage jobs somewhere instead of working out and preparing year round, and because you didn’t have MLB TV, so it was your only chance to see that great player on a crappy team in the other league. As it stands, however, I sort of like not being forced to turn on the All-Star game if I want to watch Zack Greinke pitch once a year. If that means that the All-Star game isn’t “special” and that Bob Costas has one more reason to get a sad,I can live with that. And I can live with an All-Star game that’s primarily about having fun and isn’t taken far too seriously by fans and media members.
Even if an exhibition game has to end in a tie every now and then.
*(Of course, I’d be remiss if didn’t engage in my annual ritual of pointing out how incredibly messed up it is that we pine for the days when a Hall of Fame caliber player didn’t think twice about ruining an opposing player’s career in order to win an exhibition game. And, incidentally, I think that relative disparity in stature plays a big role in why it’s celebrated. I would imagine we’d remember that play a lot differently if Rose had blown up, say, Yogi Berra or Carlton Fisk in their prime and ruined the rest of their career. Or if it had been Rose instead of Fosse who was hurt, derailing the Reds’ pennant winning season that year. As it stands, however, no one gives a crap about Ray Fosse, because Fosse is just a footnote in baseball history, and that footnote is that he’s the guy who had his career ruined by Rose in the All-Star game. I guess it’s kind of immortalizing in its own right, but I’d wager that Fosse wouldrather it not have happened that way).