Fixing the All Star Game

Raise your hand if you think the All Star Game, including the selection process, is just fine the way it is.

Put down that arm, you are an idiot.   Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were trying to start the wave.  In that case, put down those arms, you are still an idiot.

Thanks to a couple of recent missteps, the commissioners office has implemented some new measures for the mid-summer classic, in the hopes that it would increase revenue improve the quality of the game.  As has happened so many times in politics, an overreaction to a single isolated incident has led to volumes of legislation that has been more harmful than the original problem.

Fixing  the All Star Game troubles should be such a simple task.  Most of it just requires undoing the last decade of “enhancements”.

1.  There is no fair in baseball

This is especially if you were watching the sixth inning of Johan Santana’s no hitter earlier in the year.  A quick poke at a controversial call that means nothing in the grand scheme of things aside, the search for fairness in baseball is a fools errand, so why even try.   In some respects, we love the differences in the ballpark dimensions and layouts.  The two leagues play under different sets of rules, which itself is a lunacy I don’t understand, but fans of each league hang on to those rules as “the one true baseball”.

The closest thing you can come to fair is equal number of opportunities.  <Insert personal commentary on the one game playoff>.  As for the All Star Game, alternating its location between a National League and American League city is perfect, and that should be the end of it.  The ASG has largely followed that pattern, except for a few times in which there were two All Star Games (one hosted by each league) in a season or there was some sort of special anniversary for the host city.

Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t working.  It is.   Or rather, it was.

2. Turn the All Star voting back to the fans that attend games.

Now is when I get to turn this article into something I’m more comfortable with 🙂

Back in 1957, the fans selected a rather unusual starting lineup for the National League All Stars.   It looked like this.

  • 1B – Stan Musial (Cardinals)
  • 2B – Johnny Temple (Reds)
  • SS – Roy McMillan (Reds)
  • 3B – Don Hoak (Reds)
  • LF – Frank Robinson (Reds)
  • CF – Gus Bell (Reds)
  • RF – Wally Post (Reds)
  • C – Ed Baily (Reds)

At first glance something seems very strange about this.  Remember that the National League only had eight teams at the time: Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and St. Louis.  You should also know that the Reds had been playing very good baseball since early May, and were 8 games over .500 at the break.  They were also just 3 games behind the Cardinals in the standings.  Perhaps a disproportionate number of Reds being voted in might not be unreasonable under those circumstances.

Then you start looking for names Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Gil Hodges and fail to see any of them.  The only non-Reds player was Stan Musial at first base.  The Reds first baseman at the time ?  George Crowe, who was filling in for an injured Ted Kluszewski.  Had Kluz been healthy, perhaps it would have been a complete Reds lineup.

The league office conducted an investigation and found out that over half of the ballots came from Cincinnati.   Then they found the source of most of these ballots – the Cincinnati Enquirer.  The newspaper had distributed a pre-marked ballot with the Weekend editions of the paper in the hopes that fans would send them in.  There are also stories of business refusing to serve customers until they voted.   Before you open your mouth in outrage, how is this any different from what is going on right now in the final spot voting ?  And no, David Freese is not going to give you a pony if you vote for him.

Ford C. Frick (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball, intervened and made some lineup changes.   The obvious place to start was in the outfield, with Gus Bell and Wally Post.   They were replaced by Henry Aaron (Braves) and Willie Mays (Giants).  Gus Bell was having a good season, so he was kept on the roster as a reserve.  Post was not.   Frick may have wanted to make more changes, but the remaining Reds selections were not that unreasonable, so were allowed to stand.

Frick made one other change.   He took away the fan voting until the league office could figure out some way of making the process fair (there’s that word again).   All Star voting would now be done by players, manager and coaches, and that lasted until the 1970 All Star Game.   The solution was so obvious, it shouldn’t have taken more than a decade, but with several new expansion teams, it was the perfect time to return part of the voting to the fans.   The solution ?  An equal number of ballots for each team, to be passed out at each ballpark during home games.

As the Guinness brothers say in their commercials, Brilliant!  Quite often, the simplest solutions are the best solutions.   This has worked fairly well, until the Internet came along.

Mr. Selig, tear down that web page.   Go back to what has worked reasonably well for three decades.  Pass out the same number of ballots for each team and distribute them to the fans who attend games.  Keeping the All Star Voting in the hands of the fan is still an important objective.  Perhaps the fan they should pay attention to is the one going through the turnstile, and not sitting in front of a keyboard and mouse.

3. The All Star Game is an Exhibition Game

Perhaps the biggest mistake that current commissioner, Bud Selig, has made is turning what was once an exhibition game into something that has a very real impact to the game – determining home field advantage in the World Series.   This is an idea you would expect from some grade schoolers who are missing a couple of players for a neighborhood game who agree that since there is no third baseman, any ball hit to the left doesn’t count.

We all know why this rule was enacted – the 2002 All Star Game.   Ahhh, yes.  We remember that game.  Full of fail, it was.   Thanks to an Omar Vizquel triple in the eighth inning, the game went into extra innings.  The excuse for the unfortunate end to the game was that both teams had run out of players, but that’s not quite accurate.  The real reason is that nobody wanted to extend the pitchers that were currently in the game.  Both Vincente Padilla (Phillies)  and Freddie Garcia (Mariners) had pitched for two innings.  Before the National League batted in the 11th, a compromise was reached that if the game remained tied (the NL not scoring), it would end as a tie.    It did.

Oh, how quickly we forget baseball history.   In 1967, the All Star Game also went into extra innings.   There was no talk of ending in a tie.  Jim “Catfish” Hunter (Athletics) pitched five innings of relief.  His sole mistake was to Tony Perez, who gave the NL the win with a solo home run.

With those enormous rosters, how can a manager run out of players in an 11 inning game ?   Oh, that’s right, it is supposed to be an EXHIBITION GAME.  Since it is an EXHIBITION GAME, you want to make sure that all of the popular players get a chance to play and be seen by their fans.  That forces managers to make some ridiculous substitutions.   That is perfectly fine because it should be AN EXHIBITION GAME.

With one swipe of a pen and an overreaction to a one poor decision, Selig has turned what used to be a fun game played by the most popular players into a badly morphed interleague game that has significant consequences.   Now, managers have to choose players to fill out a tactically sound roster instead of rewarding other players that are flying under the radar (taking Michael Bourn instead of Brandon Phillips or Matt Holliday).

The most important thing for the commissioner to do right now is return the All Star Game to its exhibition status, thereby undoing the biggest mistake that he has made as commissioner.   That would return the home field advantage for the World Series back to an alternating AL/NL city, and balance would be restored in the force.

4. Buster Posey is more popular than Yadier Molina

I thought that Tony La Russa’s tendency to remove Matt Holliday in a late inning double switch caused a twitterstorm.   That was nothing compared to what got unleashed on the Internet when it was learned that Buster Posey was voted in as the starting catcher for the National League.   There were some tweets that would make a sailor blush.  Goodness.

pssst:  See #3 above.

Carlos Ruiz and his 172 OPS+

The All Star Game is supposed to be an exhibition game.   Once the voting privilege was returned to the fans in 1970, it became a popularity contest.  Period.   As it should be.  Before Cardinals fans rare up on their hind legs, wait…. people have only two legs ….. Let’s try that again.  Before Cardinals fans yell foul (like a certain umpire that we will not name), it should be pointed out that Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies is rocking a rather pre-Anaheim-Pujolsian  .357 / .419 / .698 with 13 homers, 46 RBIs, a 38% caught stealing rate and a .995 fielding percentage.  So maybe Buster Posey shouldn’t be the starter, but it is not exactly like Yadier Molina is the obvi0us alternative.

Fans of every team (except the 2012 Texas Rangers, goodness) complain that Player A or B were left off the roster, and that’s not fair (see #1 above).  It happens every year.   In 1975, Ted Simmons (.324 / .399 / .510) was left off the roster in favor of Johnny Bench, Manny Sanguillen and Gary Carter.  That was Gary Carter’s rookie year and his selection would be on the level of Bryce Harper or Mike Troutth is year.  He was also the sole selection from the Montreal Expos, which gave him the nod over Simmons.   That was not fair to Simmons.   See #1 above.   It happens.

There are quite a few things that are working in Buster Posey’s favor

  • Posey is the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year (name recognition)
  • He plays in San Francisco (regional population of 7.6 Million)
  • San Francisco is the sixth largest TV market
  • The San Francisco Giants are pioneers in using social media technologies
  • Fans in Cincinnati and Milwaukee are not voting for Yadier Molina, ever

Posey is popular.   As is Joe “Well Played” Mauer in the American League.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

5. Let’s Vote the Final ASG Roster Spot off the Island

Since when did baseball follow the lead of Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother or any reality TV show ?  Seriously – I’m supposed to text my vote to <blah><blah><blah>.    Seriously ?   For three hours on July 5, the twitter social media network turned into a complete content free zone as fans enthusiastically tweeted nonsense, just so they could include a #FreesePlease or #PetPeavy hashtag and have it count as a vote.   OK, it was really #TakeJake, but #PetPeavy is a lot more consistent with the theme of this article.

Let’s go back to that 2002 All Star Game, shall we ?   That was the first one where fans got to vote for not just the starters, but also the final roster spot.   That ASG was just full of fail, wasn’t it ?

We get the idea – keep fans involved until the final second.  Keep them going to the website to vote, thus sending the page and click counts through the roof, increasing advertising revenues.    Now we can send SMS messages and for the first time, the MLB is counting twitter hashtags.   For those with fixed SMS or data plans, the carriers have to love that idea.

If we are going to fix this problem, let’s not stop with just last roster spot – why not take on the entire Internet voting process.

What is driving these recent ideas is noble  and we should be appreciative of the efforts to engage all fans, especially those that are not fortunate enough to attend baseball games.   That said, the implementation is not just flawed, it is absurd.   Since when does online voting become more important than all of those paying customers marking the red ballots with their #2 pencils (also passed out at the ballpark) ?   If you want to bring in the remote Internet fan, why not tie the voting to their account.   One vote per game, period.  Not 25, or worse, 25 by as many fake gmail, hotspot or yahoo mail addresses I decide to create.   Not only that, you also have to be logged into your account and ACTUALLY WATCHING a game.  Then you can vote.   If you can give me synchronized audio from five sources, multiple game feeds, a live look for a game that I’m actually attending,  you have the programming skills to give me a pop-up widget that looks like the ballot passed out in the ballpark.

As far as I can see, the only downside to this is that the MLB can’t claim a new record vote getter each year.

6. Attendance is Voluntary

If a player that is selected to play in the All Star Game would rather stay at home and get the three days off, let him.   If he (or perhaps in the future, she) doesn’t want to play, quite frankly, I don’t want to see them.   This is an exhibition game for the fans, to recognize the most popular players in the sport.  If that is not enough of an incentive for that player, fine.   But don’t be surprised if your popularity starts declining, and the invitations to future games go away.

My first thought was that the league could institute a fine for no-shows, but the newly signed collective bargaining agreement would have to be amended  before anything like that could be considered.  Even if that did happen, is this really a problem ?   No.  In that case, there’s nothing more to see.  Move along.

7. Replace the Home Run Derby with a real Futures Game

Nothing quite takes us back to the glory days of the Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) era as much as watching artificially endowed human beings hitting baseballs into the parking structure adjacent to the ballpark in which the event was being held.

That’s right, I stick my tongue out at the thought of it too.   Sure, let’s have a three hour extravaganza focused on one of the least important parts of the game.

psst: chicks don’t really dig the long ball, you morons.

Instead, why not take a page from the current minor league prospects futures game and hold a rookie game, perhaps expanding it to include a second or third year player.  I know that I had a hard time with Mike Trout’s invitation as well as Bryce Harper’s consideration for the final roster spot, so this is a potential solution.  What an exciting game this should be, showing off the younger talent that is already in the league, instead of prospects that might never make it (Francisco Samuel, anybody?).  It should still follow the NL/AL divison, and not the ridiculous US against the World thing that seems so popular these days.   Let’s vote that one  off the island too.

None of this is difficult.  All it takes is a bit of understanding and a couple of deep breaths on the part of the fan – and the league undoing most of what it has done.  The ball is in your court, Mr. Commissioner.

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