So? That would be my initial answer to the title. The All-Star game is on? So what? Who cares? It doesn’t matter who wins anyway. I think I could live without the seeing the score of an exhibition game . That’s the rub, isn’t it? All-star games are exhibitions. A way for leagues to show off the best of the best within their sport. Nothing less and certainly nothing more. Unless it’s baseball. You already have two separate leagues whom play by different rules. Why not have an All-Star game that matters?
The MLB All-Star game has a stipulation tied to its outcome. The league of All-Stars that wins the game receives home-field advantage during the World Series, regardless of the records of the teams involved in the Series itself (I think there’s a Pre-destination argument somewhere in there but I’m going to let it go). The National League had won the last 4 All-Star games and National League teams have won 3 of the last 4 World Series. In fact, the team with home-field has won 22 of the last 27 World Series. This home-field thing is no small potatoes. So why would you stake the value of your championship on an exhibition game? Let’s go back in time.
In 2002, the All-Star game was called, by commissioner Bud Selig, as a draw. A tie. Just about the worst thing that can happen in an exhibition game. The point of the game is not to win or lose; the point is just to play. So imagine the embarrassment of having to end the game because no one could play well enough to score. In this arena, baseball has a distinct disadvantage to other sports: scoring isn’t easy enough to ignore how much time you’re spending watching a game that doesn’t matter.
The NBA and the NHL have the best all-star games because it’s a celebrated pick-up game. In fact, NBA does the best job of poking fun at the spectacle by having celebrities regularly join in the fun and letting players enjoy themselves. The score gets up to 150-145 and other ludicrous totals like that. Putting a ball through a net when no one’s really trying to stop you isn’t too hard. Plus, there’s the added fun of watching very competitive men start to take the game a little (too?) seriously to one-up each other. Doesn’t hurt the quality of the game.
The NHL is right there too because hockey is a simple enough sport to let players skate around and enjoy the moment. A 10-9 score line is not out of the question. Plus, it’s not that hard to put a puck in net when no one’s really trying to stop you.
The NFL has had disastrous results with it’s all-star game. No one wants to watch almost 3 hours of pick-up football. Even then, it’s not that hard to score a touchdown if no one’s trying to stop you.
MLB? Whole different story. No one wants to watch 3 hours of pick-up baseball. In addition, there would have to be remarkable disregard on the behalf of the defense for a player to score on a single. It’s hard to score in baseball. Baseball is a sport that celebrates athletes that hit the ball, to get on base, 30 percent of the time. A career .300 hitter, with caveats of plate appearances and the like, is seen as a great career. 30 percent. 3 out of 10. That’s borderline Hall of Fame status. If that’s what the best of all-time are doing, how much more for the one-time All-Star? If a player goes 1 for 3 in an All-Star game, he’s at .333 and had a good outing. That’s 1 hit. It’s hard to score in baseball.
So what do you do? You can’t risk a tie. I mean, no one cares to begin with. So a tie just emphasizes the fact that no one really wants to be there anyway. So, you make the game matter. The detriments are obvious at this point. (However, with the 2nd Wild-Card, an October Classic in November, and a Banned Substance Policy that seems to be inept at best, I don’t know if it’s the biggest issue in baseball right now.) Yet, the game matters…and produces sights like tonight.
Andrew McCutchen pinch-ran for another All-Star that isn’t exactly fleet-footed. Does that happen in a game that doesn’t matter?
Prince Fielder legs out a triple to place himself in better scoring position
Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado make great fielding plays to keep the American League in front
Mariano Rivera, baseball legend, pitches in the 8th inning because the A.L. manager doesn’t want to risk him not making an appearance at all. See, if the N.L. had scored enough runs, the A.L. could have been behind and the manager may not have had the opportunity to play the first-ballot Hall of Famer in the 9th. The manager didn’t want to take the risk. Does that risk remain prominent in a game that doesn’t matter?
The game mattered. The hits mattered. The defensive plays mattered. The strikeouts mattered. Above all, the score line mattered. (In fact, the only thing that didn’t matter was the MVP award to Mariano Rivera but even that mattered because of the recipient, not because of the award) It was fun watching both managers utilize strategy as both teams played to win. Yet, there is a cynical joke in all of it. In every at-bat, every pitch, and every play, there is a singular thought: this is an exhibition game.
So why do we care who wins?