A View From Studio 3: Pondering the ASG
Home-field incentive at odds with fan vote, one player per team minimum
I love the All-Star Game. Always have. It's the ultimate exhibition for a baseball lover. Years ago, it was about staying up late on a hot summer night to catch a glimpse of the game's best in action. That was way before you could see any player at any time on any number of handheld devices. All-Star memories over the decades have as much to do with the games themselves as the odd moments surrounding the game.
In 1980, when the game was played at Dodger Stadium, the only thing I recall was that it was light outside in Los Angeles and dark outside at my house. See, baseball is educational! I learned about time zones that night.
In 1986, the game was played at the Astrodome. My most vivid memory of that contest is that the Mets players -- Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez -- wore white cleats. It was after Memorial Day, so I guess white shoes were acceptable.
But most of all, grabbing a pile of All-Star ballots from the cardboard kiosk at Shea Stadium and poking out the squares is something that I will tell my kids about. Sadly, this tradition should come to an end if home-field advantage remains attached to this event.
When MLB implemented the current system of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game, it was done out of necessity -- to energize the fans and players after the 2002 Midsummer Classic ended in a tie.
Most agreed that "something" had to be done. Appropriately, the league acted in short order.
A decade later, home field is still at stake, yet the player selection process and current rules don't jive with the importance of the contest.
For starters, any game that can help determine the outcome of a World Series -- and by extension, baseball history -- should not involve fan voting. I know that is probably not a popular stance, but think about it. Fans don't chime in on who Bruce Bochy plays in any game. Not even in Spring Training. So it has no place in a game of great importance. With so much on the line, doesn't it make sense that rosters are picked exclusively by people who play and manage the contest ?
If you question the significance of home-field advantage in the World Series, consider this. Since 2003, the team with home-field advantage in the Fall Classic has won it seven of 10 times. Home-field advantage is a big deal.
The next issue with this system involves selecting at least one player from each team. That doesn't make sense if the mission is to win this game. If you want the best players on the field, the managers shouldn't have their hands tied by that rule. Every year, qualified star players take an unwanted four-day vacation because of this.
This has nothing to do with a bias against any particular team. It's just logical that if you want to win, you take the players who have the best shot of getting it done. If that means eight Red Sox players, so be it. If it means zero Blue Jays, live with it. I'm guessing Toronto fans would be just fine with this if the Jays reached the Fall Classic and hosted Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Rogers Centre.
How about this idea? Move the game to Wednesday. The All-Star break would run from Monday through Thursday, with every team back in action on Friday. This gives starting pitchers who pitch on the Sunday before the break a greater ability to throw effectively in the All-Star Game.
Currently, the rules allow any such pitcher to ask out of the All-Star Game or be removed from the game at his own discretion. There's also a one-inning cap on any starter who pitches for his team the Sunday before the break. Once again, if winning the game is of such great importance, neither side should suffer because of poor timing.
Of course, an easier solution is to just turn back the hands of time. For one day, lose home-field advantage and go "old school." Use the All-Star break as ... a break. For everyone involved -- both fans and players. Wouldn't it be fun to simplify things so just the mere sight of your favorite player on the field was enough to get you jazzed up?
How about the notion of "league pride" with nothing more attached to the outcome?
Some great playground arguments (and fistfights) were started with this in mind. It was kids being kids, imitating players being players. Former All-Stars will tell you that they played the All-Star Game to win. Period. At all costs. "Love of league" meant something. That's all they needed to get motivated.