An All-Star Proposal

July 14, 2015
 
Tonight, about the time I’ll be posting this article, the National League will host the American League for the 2015 All-Star game. There’ll be the usual pre-game pomp: a horde of analysts predicting which team has the better lineup or rotation, followed by the lengthy introduction of players: managers and coaches, reserves, and then the starters.
 
I used to love about the All-Star game. That’s understating it a bit: for most of my childhood the All-Star game was the one can’t-miss sporting event of the summer. I cared about it: I filled out ballots, collecting them at the ballpark and filling them in carefully, after consulting the league leaders. I followed the tallies that the newspaper posted on vote getters. I’d get mad about the snubs.
 
I’ve stopped caring. I don’t think I’ve watched an entire All-Star game in at least a decade. The last All-Star game I have any memory of was the 1999 contest in Fenway.
 
Why did I stop caring?
 
I used to think that I stopped caring because I grew up. The All-Star game is kind of cheesy. There’s an awkward balance between solemnity and jocularity that is kind of awkward, and a lot of the tension within the game seems uncomfortable (is the manager going to let hometown Twin Glen Perkins close the game, or on-his-retirement-tour Mariano Rivera finish it?), or silly (which pitchers are being saved if the game goes into extra innings?). I don’t like fake sports, and the All-Star game seems like the ultimate ‘fake sport’. It was fun when I was a kid, but I’ve got kids of my own now.
 
Thinking about it more recently, it dawned on me that my ambivalence about the All-Star game has less to do with the falseness of the contest, and more to do with how superfluous it is.
 
The All-Star Game, for most of its existence, served two useful purposes:
 
-          It showed us a concentrated dose of the best players in the sport, and
-          It showed us interesting matchups that we otherwise wouldn’t see.
 
When I started watching All-Star games in the late 1980’s, this was awesome. That’s the term we used, ‘awesome.’ We were pretty rad back then.
 
I mentioned how much the player introductions annoy me now, but when I was a kid this was actually a highlight: we got to see what Ryne Sandberg or Eric Davis looked like in real time. This was fun. This was something we didn’t have back when cell phones weighed fifteen pounds and emitted enough radiation to sterilize any small mammals that came within a 100-foot radius of the phones.
 
We don’t need this anymore. Now, in this age of instant access to information, we don’t need this. If I want to watch Bryce Harper eat his morning bowl of oatmeal and crushed rhino horn, I can just Google it and watch the video on my I-phone.
 
Likewise, while the All-Star game used to offer exclusive matchups (Gooden versus Boggs, Clemens versus Schmidt, Dan Petry versus Von Hayes), now we get these interleague matchups in the regular season.
 
And they matter in those regular season matchups. Why should I care what Mike Trout does against Clayton Kershaw during an exhibition game, when I get to watch Mike Trout face off against Clayton Kershaw in a real game, one that counts in the standings?
 
The All-Star Game hasn’t lost its luster because the average baseball fan is older and more cynical. The All-Star Game has lost its shine because the things that used to be exclusive to the game now exist in other realms, and in better formats.  
 
There is no longer anything essential about the game.
 
*             *             *
 
So here’s my proposal. Here’s my idea about how to fix the All-Star Game.
 
Partially, my idea is built on the back of this year’s Home Run Derby, which overhauled its structure to make the annual contest one thousand times more interesting than the "Chris-Berman-Says-the-Word-‘Back’-Until-My-Ears-Bleed-Derby." That is: I’m suggesting a big overhaul of the current structure, not a small tweaking of the current version. Let’s blow this sucker up.
 
Before we get to the structure, I’m going to address, first, the point of the game.
 
One of the biggest issues that people have with the All-Star game is that it decides home-field advantage for the World Series. I don’t really know why this riles people up, but it does.
 
Instead of doing away with this component to the game, my approach would be to double-down on it. The All-Star game would still decide home-field for the World Series. And it would decide home-field advantage for every round of the playoffs.
 
Let’s get to the structure.
 
We’d still have two teams, an AL team and an NL team. They’d still be managed by the manager who made it to the previous season’s World Series.   
 
But each team would have three sub-teams: an East, Central, and West team.
 
Each of these sub-team would be responsible for three innings in the game. The managers would choose which sub-team took the first three innings, which sub-team took the three middle innings, and which sub-team managed the last three innings.
 
Let’s talk about roster construction, because we'd have to change that, too.
 
We’ll have three rounds of selections: a fan-vote round, a player’s-vote round, and then a manager’s round.
 
Instead of having fans vote by position, fans would vote by team….whichever player on each team gets the most fan votes is on the All-Star squad. Each team gets one player: the Royals and Red Sox each get one fan representative.
 
The players would vote the same way: one player from each team. Each team would have a Player Representative.
 
Then we’d get to the manager’s choices. The manager would also have to pick one player from each team in the league. That’s forty-five All-Stars, if you’re keeping count. Three per team.
 
The manager’s choices would be difficult, because he’d have to ‘fill’ the rosters that the fans and players left him with. If the fans and players haven’t selected a catcher or a shortstop for the AL West team, the AL manager has to use two of his slots to fill that position on the diamond. He's also limited by having to pick one player from each team. If you want Brock Holt because of his position flexibility, you can't also have Koji to close the game. 
 
In all likelihood, the managers would have a fifteen-player roster, with ten or eleven position players, and four or five pitchers.
 
Once the fans and players had their votes, and the manager filled out the roster, we’d get into the game.
 
At some predetermined point, the AL and NL managers would have to announce the order that they were playing their sub-teams. The AL manager would have to say: "We’re playing the Western squad, and then the Eastern Squad, and finishing with the Central squad." The NL manager would make his own announcement.
 
This gives the managers a chance to strategize before the game. The AL Central’s team would probably have a deep bullpen: Holland and Robertson would be strong candidates to make the team, as would Wade Davis. The NL Manager might anticipate that the AL manager would go play the Central team last, and organize his team to counter it.
 
We could have this result:
 
Innings 1-3 – NL Central versus AL East
Innings 4-6 – NL West versus AL West
Innings 7-9 – NL East versus AL Central
 
We’ll get to extra innings in a second….sticking with the game itself, we’d have three smaller games within the larger game. These games would decide home-field advantage in each of the playoff rounds. Let’s see how this would break down.
 
Innings 1-3: NL Central 2, AL East 0
Innings 4-6: NL West 1, AL West 0
Innings 7-9: NL East 3, AL Central 7
 
Final score: NL 6, AL 7
 
The American League has won the ‘big’ game: they have home-field advantage in the World Series.
 
But the Division teams have scored points of their own, which will decide home-field in the earlier rounds.
 
The NL Central scored two runs, and allowed zero runs. Their score is +2.
 
The scores of the Division teams are as follows:
 
AL East: -2 (In their sub-game they scored zero runs, and allowed two).
AL Central: +4
AL West: -1
NL East: -4
NL Central: +2
NL West: +1
 
How does this play out in the postseason?
 
The AL Central team has home-field advantage in all of their matchups. If they reach the World Series they’d have home-field there, too, because the AL won the game.
 
Whichever team wins the NL West (the Dodgers) would have home-field if they played the NL East in the playoffs, but they wouldn’t have home-field if they matched up against the Central representative.
 
What about the Wild Card teams?

This gives us the home-field for the Wild Card game: if the AL Wild Card teams come from the East and West, the West team hosts the game. I think the Wild Card team should carry their ‘score’ into the Division and Championship Series matchup: it would be possible for a Wild Card team to have home-field advantage in the Division or Championship series.  
 
There’d be ties, of course. If there was a tie, we could use something to break the tie: most HR’s, say, and then most strikeouts, and then most hits.
 
What’s compelling about these games-within-the-game is that we’d have players who ordinarily work against one another enlisted to work with one another. Instead of having the Royals and Tigers and Indians battling against one another, we’d have them playing for a common goal, one that could benefit all of them. It’s be unique. It’d be fun to see Chris Sale and Jose Abreu cheering for Yordano Ventura.
 
And…the players are simultaneously competing with and against the other players in their league. They benefit if their divisional compatriots win their sub-games, but they don’t want them to win their sub-game by too much, or they’d lose an edge in the earlier playoff rounds.
 
The other benefit is that we’d take away the annoying ‘cycling of players’ that takes place in the current game. Nine of the ten (or eleven) position players would play the entire three innings. The pitchers would each go one inning, or less than that, which is what happens anyway.
 
Let’s say that we have a tie game after nine innings. What happens then?
 
The game would reset. The division sub-games would be over, and the teams would be playing for home field in the World Series.
 
For the extra-time period, we’d do something like the shootout: each manager would pick their dream team, from anyone on their roster. And they’d pick three pitchers….whomever they wanted.
 
In the extra-time period, everyone would bat: each side would have exactly nine hitters swing the bat, trying to push across as many runs as possible in their nine at-bats. The manager could change pitchers whenever he wanted: he could let Pitcher #1 pitch to one batter and then bring on Pitcher #2 to three batters, and then ask Pitcher #3 to finish out the game.
 
Whichever team scores the most runs gets the home-field advantage. If it’s a tie, we’d use the same tie-breaker we use in the divisional games: number of HR’s, then strikeouts, then hits.
 
As I see it, this gives the game a distinct structure that makes it different than ordinary games. I think the foundational problem of the All-Star Game is that it’s exactly like regular games, except the purpose isn’t really to win. As much as the managers say they want to win, the real purpose is to let as many people play on the field as possible. Right now, the All-Star Game is a juggling act pretending to be a real game.
 
What I’d propose is to make the game into four real games: three inter-divisional games that, added up, tally to one big game.
 
Whaddya think?
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
    
 
 

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

nettles9
Leave it as it is. MLB will know when they need to change it. Fun article.
11:33 AM Jul 18th
 
jemanji
Very cool! :- )

They used to do this in the CBA, right? A 'win' per quarter and a win for the overall game. This was the approach to infuse importance into something that seemed unimportant.

The touch of genius here is the AL West vs etc, because then 'bragging rights' come back into play. Personally I don't *feel* that an AL victory means much if it's whole AL vs whole NL, but you might have disparities in divisions. If the NL East is dominant, let's see that in the All-Star Game.

You got my vote amigo. Good stuff.

9:30 PM Jul 15th
 
flyingfish
It's just way too complicated. You'd need a degree in accounting just to keep up with everything. The actual games are interesting enough to hold fans' interest, but not any all-star game, not even this version. And the problems with the all=star game's determining home-field advantage are at least two, and you have, as you say, doubled down on both of them. First, a bunch of people who have nothing to do with the two league champions determining home-field advantage. Second, you eliminate one aspect of races that are important; your number of wins affects home-field advantage.

Epic fail, in my not-so-humble opinion.
5:57 PM Jul 15th
 
bearbyz
I agree with Backstop 3 games, but have the games by division. Then we use Dave's method for a whole game instead of 3 innings. I loved the way you picked the roster. Since each division has 5 teams we have the fans and writers pick both a pitcher and hitter. The manager then picks the final 5. That would be 5 players on each team. Every year teams can rotate the division they play.

Also a wild card team should never have home field advantage in the playoffs over a division winner. Strongly disagree with that.
5:06 PM Jul 15th
 
OldBackstop
Well, regarding introductions...90 percent of the things I watch I DVR to at least be 15 minutes behind and be able to fast forward through the commercials. They could do five minutes of bears on unicycles and it wouldn't effect my viewing experience.

As to the game in general...remember there used to be two All Star games? What if after the season there was a three game series in a warm weather city to determine some of these issues (and maybe more..draft order? Winning league gets the first 15. Plus something else...money works).

Sure, you'd get some stars not wanting to play, but any more than pass it up with dings in July? Maybe have a rule that a few top prospects from each team should be in the mix.

And....if you hit the baserunner with the ball, he's out. Okay, I'm done.
3:14 PM Jul 15th
 
MarisFan61
I don't agree that that's the most relevant question, and certainly not that it's a sufficient one.

More relevant and important:

-- Is the current thing problematic enough to warrant a radical change
-- If so, what are the problems
-- Does any new proposed thing address those
-- Does the new proposed thing sacrifice things that are good about the current thing, and on balance, is it worth it

....and BTW all the same applies to new proposals for Hall of Fame selection, which we see constantly and which usually bypass most of those things.​
3:02 PM Jul 15th
 
lidsky
Sometimes one can get lost amongst the trees as we look at the causes, and magnitude, of All-Star game lack of luster. Ask one question - would this game that Dave propose be much more exciting and generate more interest. Absolutely.

Fun read too.
2:37 PM Jul 15th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Raincheck and I were typing at the same time.
I think I said the same thing he did, just less interestingly. :-)
1:48 PM Jul 15th
 
MarisFan61
Now I know for sure I'm not alone about the introductions. Not that I had any doubt. :-)

Last night after the game, a caller on WFAN devoted his call to the introductions, talking about how much he loved them. And BTW he wasn't a kid. He was middle age or older.

Not liking or loving the introductions has nothing particularly to do with them not being needed any more because of the internet or whatever, unless you happen to be one for whom idiosyncratically the things you used to like about them are now covered by those things. It would seem it's more likely about your just having had enough of it and you could use it to be different (or nothing) -- and I'd guess that's the main thing behind your not liking the game that much. That, plus interleague play, which isn't going to change and which will take away from the all star game(s) no matter what's done to them.

Why this matters: Well it doesn't necessarily. :-)
Except that when looking to change something, it doesn't hurt to be as real as possible about what's behind our feeling that there's a problem.

1:47 PM Jul 15th
 
raincheck
Here's how you raise interest in the game. Ban all regular season games from television so that the All Star Game is the only way to see them. Make all fans be 10 year old boys for a day. Get rid of most cable channels and the Internet so kids have no other entertainment options.

Look, no one is interested in the Pro Bowl or the NBA All Star game anymore either. This is a concept that would be looked at as "is this necessary." Between eliminating this game and going to 154 game season maybe twe could a World Series in before winter sets in.
1:45 PM Jul 15th
 
chuck
Fun and interesting ideas, Dave. I think Old Backstop is right that the possibility for the manager to finagle the matchups so that the other 2 division teams get the toughest opposing pitchers should be avoided. I'd suggest cycling through on a regular basis- East vs East, Central vs Central, etc in year 1. Next year: AL East vs NL Central, AL Central vs NL West, AL West vs NL East, and so on.

I like the idea of experimentation with this game- try something different, and if something really clicks - as this year's HR derby format seemed to - stick with it.

Another thing- why isn't the futures game played on Wednesday evening, when people who abhor off-days would love to see the stars of tomorrow?
10:30 AM Jul 15th
 
Fireball Wenz
I'm in the same boat - it used to be magical when there was no inter-league, and my only chance to see Willie and Hank and Gibby and Marichal was the odd Game of the Week.

To revive interest, I would be even more radical - I'd have a pool of players determined by fan votes - top four vote-getters at each position go into the pool, plus top 20 pitchers. Then the managers from the last World Series pick the teams like you do on the playground. Have the managers toss up a bat

OR - Have a fans' team versus the writers' team. Fans' top vote getter at each position on the fans' team, and then the BBWAA gets to pick their team from the players left over. Benches to be chosen by the managers.
11:18 PM Jul 14th
 
MarisFan61
Hasn't there always been strong emphasis on trying to get everyone into the game? I thought there was; I don't remember it ever not being.

Looking at the 1941 game that you mentioned, I see that all the position players except Luke Appling and one of the two backup catchers (Birdie Tebbetts) got in. I'd guess that was pretty typical.

BTW, I think the emphasis on getting everyone in the game is just how it should be. I think it would be very unfortunate for this to go by the wayside. It's a great gesture toward the players and toward the fans of each team. And even if we're not fans of the team: I love seeing everyone get his chance, and I hate it when they don't -- even if it's a guy who's been in plenty of them before. I remember the time LaRussa left Pujols out of the game -- his own player -- with the explanation that if the game went extra innings, which I thought was lame. And Pujols himself wasn't happy about it either.

And, I remember Robert Fick too -- including that I remember some interviewer singling him out when he was talking to Joe Torre (the A.L. manager) after the game, and Torre answering along the lines that I'm talking about here.
9:36 PM Jul 14th
 
BobGill
I think the game went off the rails when they started insisting on getting everybody in the game. The greatest moment in all-star history was Ted Williams' game-winning home run in the ninth inning in 1941 or whenever it was, but if something like that happened today, it could never involve a similar superstar -- say Mike Trout or Bryce Harper of Miguel Cabrera -- because all those guys would've played their three or four innings, done their highly informative interviews down in the tunnel with Fox, showered and dressed by then. Any late-inning dramatics have to be supplied by the likes of Robert Fick. (Sorry I have to use an example from a decade ago, or more, but I don't pay any attention to the all-star game any more, so I can't name any more recent obscure all-stars.)

9:16 PM Jul 14th
 
evanecurb
Dave - the main reason I no longer watch is because I can no longer see that Dan Petry - Von Hayes match-up. Nothing you can do about that.

You said it early in your article. I think the all-star game is for kids. I think they should start the game earlier, so kids can see it; they should cut the rosters to about 25 players per team - either that or stop worrying about trying to get everyone into the game.

Treat it like a loss leader instead of a cash cow - tailoring it to the kids in some ways will hurt ratings - you'll need to cut way back on the commercials, start the game at 6 or 7 eastern, and hope it pays off in the long run.
8:03 PM Jul 14th
 
MarisFan61
I think there's more going on than you're letting on (maybe more than you know!) about the difference in your feeling about the all star game compared to when you were a kid. I'm sure most of the replies will be about the details of what you're proposing. I'm more interested in the reasons for why you like it so much less than you used to -- because it's the underpinning of the rest of what you say, and also because it's the kind of thing I'm more interested in anyway.

BTW, I also was much more into the game when I was a kid, but I don't think the difference has anything to do with any details like what you're addressing, nor anything at all about the game itself. I think the reasons I'm less interested are these 3 things, in this order:

-- I was younger. Now I'm older.

-- It was a novelty. It's no longer a novelty. In fact, back then I was more interested in each and every detail about baseball, each and every game, each and every play -- because it was all new for me. Another way to see it is, each thing that occurred was a much larger portion of all that I had experienced of baseball. When I was watching my first game, that game was 100% of my experience of major league baseball. Now, it's a tiny fraction of 1%. In this sense, each next thing is more marginal than the last. Before long, it was easy for all star games to feel like a huge "been there, done that," but it's not the all star game's fault.

-- Interleague play. That removes almost all the rest of whatever novelty the game might still have.

BTW, how I feel so sure that there's more involved in your change of feeling than you're saying: what you say about the pre-game introductions. It is completely unconvincing. If it were so, then pre-game introductions would now be of little interest to almost everybody, and in fact they're of interest to a lot of people. Of course I don't know exactly how many :-) .....but I do know that they're of great interest to me, absolutely as much as ever. I think there's a high chance that your annoyance over those introductions is more about not being a kid any more (even though that factor doesn't have that effect for everybody; it doesn't for me), and that the thing has 'gotten old' for you -- been there, done that.

And I tend to think that's the main basis for your dislike for the all star game in general -- maybe plus interleague play, which unavoidably does take away a lot of the novelty.

I don't doubt that the changes you propose would make the game more interesting for you, and perhaps for many others. But I don't think it's much because there's anything wrong with how it is now, but more because you've had it the current way long enough.
8:02 PM Jul 14th
 
MichaelPat
Absolutely love this, Dave.
You've hit the nail on the head in identifying the problems, and proposed solutions that would add a whole new lustre to the game. It would actually be novel and interesting again.
The novelty is in the way you have artfully messed with the structure of the game - the games within the game, the incentives, and especially the extra inning tie breaker. This isn't really something baseball can do in any other context, but would be rich fodder for the hot stove league (as we hockeyists call the chat room).
I'm not too worried about managers cheating for their division. (Imagine, meaningful controversy about the all-star game!)
7:03 PM Jul 14th
 
OldBackstop
Well, just to get this out of the way, you trippin'.

You make a great point that I never thought of regarding the ho-humness of seeing the top stars play, when we see Mike Trout highlights on cable more than we see our kids. I never thought of that. Growing up watching the Mets on WOR, I never got to see any of the 1970s AL stars like......see? I can't even think of one.

Your proposal is fun. Has some holes...the manager might be accused, maybe properly, of running the game or picking the guys for the other divisional teams, so his own division has the best chance. I think many faced with the chance for home field between all the playoffs and the chance for a World Series they may never reach might just decide that lousy third catcher should get a full dose of playing time. In effect, beating your two fellow AL divisional rivals is more valuable than winning the game.

Or, of course, at least be accused of it. So...three managers?

Plus, of course, I'm not sure that this wouldn't result in some pretty weird guys making the All Star team...like some weak catchers filling out the roster. Maybe there needs to be a different designation for the backfillers than "All Star".
5:41 PM Jul 14th
 
OldBackstop
Well, just to get this out of the way, you trippin'.

You make a great point that I never thought of regarding the ho-humness of seeing the top stars play, when we see Mike Trout highlights on cable more than we see our kids. I never thought of that. Growing up watching the Mets on WOR, I never got to see any of the 1970s AL stars like......see? I can't even think of one.

Your proposal is fun. Has some holes...the manager might be accused, maybe properly, of running the game or picking the guys for the other divisional teams, so his own division has the best chance. I think many faced with the chance for home field between all the playoffs and the chance for a World Series they may never reach might just decide that lousy third catcher should get a full dose of playing time. In effect, beating your two fellow AL divisional rivals is more valuable than winning the game.

Or, of course, at least be accused of it. So...three managers?

Plus, of course, I'm not sure that this wouldn't result in some pretty weird guys making the All Star team...like some weak catchers filling out the roster. Maybe there needs to be a different designation for the backfillers than "All Star".
5:40 PM Jul 14th
 
 
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