The All-Star Game has changed in my lifetime. While watching this year’s game, I couldn’t fight a feeling of nostalgia for how it used to be.
I may be biased in my feelings about the All-Star Game because I was used to seeing Ken Griffey Jr. play every year as a child and I remember fondly the 2001 season in which most of the AL All Stars wore Mariners teal. As I watched this year’s All-Star Game, a competitive and mostly compelling matchup between today’s AL and NL stars but which featured only one Mariner, I was reminded of how it used to be–how it used to feel to watch the game, that is.
Wishing for that old feeling is likely a part of growing up and leaving my childhood and adolescence behind–something most of us experience in our lifetime. But while I watched this year’s All-Star Game on Tuesday, the irritation caused by a few of the new rules I’ve seen instituted since I started watching baseball in 1995 flared up.
There are arguments for and against making the All-Star Game a determining factor for which league gets home field advantage in the World Series. Some writers, like Ted Berg on For the Win, think that the All-Star Game “counting” isn’t a perfect system, but it’s better than most alternatives, such as simply alternating between leagues owning home field advantage every year. Berg calls the All-Star Game “a nine-inning coin toss” and urges us to leave it alone.
What if, instead of having an exhibition game for the children to see all their favorite players decide who gets home field advantage in the playoffs, we use something like, I don’t know, regular season record? Like a real professional sports league. The argument against doing what the NBA does for its weeks and weeks of playoffs in the MLB is that it would cause a scheduling nightmare. Maybe it would be, but if the NBA can make us watch Golden State versus Cleveland Part 3 next year while flying these teams back and forth constantly for seven games, can’t the MLB do the same? Is the scheduling of the World Series such a nightmare that the MLB has to make an exhibition game “count” to arbitrarily award home field advantage to one team or another in the World Series?
I remember the 2002 All-Star Game and the famous Bud Selig shrug when it became clear that neither All-Star team wanted all that much to win that game. Making the game count for home field advantage is only a reactionary policy to that embarrassing moment for Major League Baseball.
MLB wanted to make the game more competitive for the fans, so that we’d pay our cable bills to watch it every year. Advertisers, with their hands in MLB’s pockets, need larger audiences. But if they wanted to make the game more competitive, why do all teams need at least one representative? If the All-Star Game is supposed to “count,” why have the fans vote at all? Why hamstring AL and NL All Star managers with rules about how many players on each team can play in the All-Star Game? The Midsummer Classic has turned into a incongruent mess of high competition and fun exhibition. As fans, we’re getting mixed messages from MLB: are we supposed to care who wins the All-Star Game as much as we care about our own teams or not?
Gone also are the days in which the All-Star Game venues switched between AL and NL host ballparks. This year’s game was held in Petco Park, the site where the Mariners staged one of the greatest single-game comebacks in Major League history against their NL rivals, the San Diego Padres, yet both teams had to field a Designated Hitter. MLB decided to hold the All-Star Game at four consecutive NL parks from 2015 to 2018 and alternate the use of the DH from year to year. So Padres fans got to see their boy Wil Myers play at his home park–their home park–as the DH, an alien position for the fans. Four NL parks in a row for the All-Star Game, yet Tropicana Field, albeit with its awful Astroturf glory, has yet to host one.
This year’s All-Star Game didn’t end in a tie and it featured good players playing well, what more could we want? Yet it was also full of absurd contradictions, from managers on both sides being forced to burn through their benches and find players from every team in their respective leagues to play in a game that’s supposed to be competitive, to Designated Hitters in Petco Park.
What’s wrong with having a simple exhibition game for the kids where they get to see their favorite players play a fun, relaxed game against the other stars of MLB? I bet people would still watch it. One of the fondest memories of the All-Star Game came in 2001 when Cal Ripken Jr. blasted a meatball over the wall at Safeco Field in his last season. Sure he was served a pitch right over the middle, but it was all fun and games, wasn’t it? That non-serious exhibition game gave us one of the most iconic moments in All-Star Game history.
But this time, it “counts.”