Bud Selig absorbed a lot of flak over the years for attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the outcome of the All-Star Game. Columnists (like me) didn’t like it, players didn’t like it, executives didn’t like it and when the latest round of labor talks played out, the union asked for the elimination of the feature — and MLB acceded.
But now that it’s gone, there is no getting around this reality: the All-Star Game — which had already lost a lot of its competitive soul over the past three decades as managers have focused on high-volume participation over winning — feels a little more hollow now that It Doesn’t Count.
Baseball’s All-Star Game has the potential to be the best among the major professional sports, given how the concern over possible injury turns the NFL’s offensive and defensive linemen into dance partners, and because nobody even pretends that defense or ball movement matter in the NBA’s game. If MLB players approached their All-Star Game like the NBA and NFL players do, pitchers would lob batting practice fastballs over the heart of the plate and let hitters tee off.
But the head-to-head, mano a mano aspect of baseball — the pitcher versus the batter — creates a competitive dynamic that the other sports don’t necessarily have, except in those occasional moments when LeBron James squares up against Kevin Durant or a great wide receiver is contending with a shutdown cornerback for a pass.
This part of baseball is squandered, however, by the revolving door of changes during the game. Aaron Judge is a hitter whom fans want to see right now, and we know this because less than a year since he made his major league debut he led all American League players in the All-Star voting. If he is removed from the All-Star Game after two plate appearances, it’s like pulling actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” 15 minutes into the show, or calling Bruno Mars or Ed Sheeran off the stage of a concert after the first couple of songs.
There are no major basketball events going on right now; no hockey; the NFL’s training camps don’t open until later this month. So leave Aaron Judge in the game. Keep the best and most popular players on the field to increase the likelihood that they will create indelible memories. Leave Mike Trout in the game in the years he’s healthy. Leave Bryce Harper, the National League’s leading vote-getter, in the game. Ask Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, the Cy Young front-runners, how they feel about pitching three innings apiece. Please, instruct the AL and NL managers to try to win the game rather than focusing on getting the second-tier All-Stars the one plate appearance or one-third of an inning that fans won’t remember.
The greatest All-Star moments were created by the best players. Ted Williams won the 1941 All-Star Game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game he started, and finished, happily clapping his way around the bases. Carl Hubbell, later inducted into the Hall of Fame, started the 1934 All-Star Game, and because he was allowed to pitch a second inning, he struck out Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, after whiffing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in the first inning — five consecutive strikeouts. Hubbell pitched the third inning, as well.
The 1967 All-Star Game lasted 15 innings, and here is the list of stars who played all of it: Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Brooks Robinson, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Conigliaro, Carl Yastrzemski and Bill Freehan. The biggest stars started, and many of the biggest stars finished. It makes sense in every other field of entertainment, so why doesn’t it happen in baseball’s All-Star Game?
If there is a change back to restoring star power in the All-Star Game, it’s hard to imagine it happening anytime soon. The union possesses a degree of veto power and may not be interested in adopting a shift back to a more superstar-centric format. The World Baseball Classic semifinals and finals may ultimately be used to bolster the midseason platform events.
But the home-field advantage may be an All-Star Game hook we miss sooner than anybody realized.
Around the league
Shohei Otani is bound to be the most prominent acquisition target of the offseason, and Eric Hosmer and Yu Darvish will generate a lot of attention in the market. But another high-profile free agent could be Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who is completing his 20th season at the helm of the team. Theo Epstein set a new bar for front office pay last year, when he and the Cubs negotiated a five-year, $50 million deal. That standard could help Cashman in his talks in an era in which high-end executive talent is being valued more and more. What is unknown is whether competitive bids begin to develop for him as his contract expires, whether it be from whoever takes control of the Marlins at the end of the bidding process or a team looking for new direction.
• Teams that have actively indicated to other clubs they are ready to discuss the market for their players: the Marlins, Tigers, Athletics, White Sox, Padres, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Reds and Giants. San Diego is absolutely intent on getting the best possible return in the next 22 days for left-handed reliever Brad Hand, who went from being something of a journeyman with the Marlins to an All-Star. The Padres took advantage of Drew Pomeranz’s climb in value in ’16 in the same way: Once Pomeranz ascended and became an All-Star, San Diego flipped him during the All-Star break for prospect Anderson Espinoza.
• Rival executives continue to view the Dodgers as opportunity buyers: They don’t have a glaring hole on their roster, and they have a good farm system from which to make deals. “If they get a shot at a high-end player, you could see them taking it,” said one NL official. “Or maybe they take on somebody’s salary dump. But they are in the best possible position [from which] to make trades.”
Baseball Tonight Podcast
On the podcast this week:
Friday: Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins on the question of whether to buy or sell, on Toronto’s farm system and on Aaron Sanchez; Justin Havens and Karl Ravech discuss the Final Vote picks, the Home Run Derby and the most underrated player in baseball; and voices of All-Stars.
Thursday: Keith Law steps in as host and talks with Eric Karabell about what we’ll see at the Futures Game, and with Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight.com about the baseballs.
Wednesday: Tim Kurkjian on Logan Morrison’s Home Run Derby comments; Jessica Mendoza on what it takes to win the Derby, and Sarah Langs stops by with The Numbers Game.
Monday: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo on the team’s search for bullpen help and about making trades; Jerry Crasnick on All-Star snubs and players for whom we are happy.
And today will be better than yesterday.–>