Baseball’s “All-Star Game” becoming midsummer misnomer

With the all-star break over as games get under way tonight, Major League Baseball has to ask itself: What is the point of the All-Star Game?

The midsummer classic has evolved into a midsummer misnomer. It certainly isn’t “all stars” – unless you consider Tyler Clippard, Gaby Sanchez and Matt Joyce household names. And it barely feels like a game at some points.

How did it become OK for the All-Star Game starter to throw ONE inning?

Plays such as Jose Bautista’s diving catch or Jordan Walden’s heads-up play fielding a bunt notwithstanding, it seems like there’s more of the Little League throwing that was on display in the ninth inning. Or Cliff Lee not covering first base. Or wondering who came in for Cliff Lee. Wait, it was Tyler Clippard? And it’s still the fourth inning? Who is Tyler Clippard? Oh, he’s a “set-up man.” It’s bad enough the rosters are already bloated with closers who have racked up cheap saves, now we’re seeing guys like Clippard and David Robertson making the team based on a nice-looking ERA over a small sample size. Then not even being used in their “role” while superior (and much more valuable) starters are still on the bench. And by the time the average fan has figured out who that guy is, the broadcasters might have finished announcing the other substitutes in what ESPN’s Buster Olney cleverly termed a “parade of cameos.”

So what is the point? Is it meant to attract non-baseball fans? The bloated rosters full of first-timers and marginal “stars” hardly do that. Is it a reward to hardcore fans? Hard to believe, since it’s about as far from a purist’s version of baseball as you can get. So is it just a nice way for the host team to cash in and the league to pull down some extra TV revenue? Or is it baseball’s version of Everyone Gets a Trophy Day, with 84 players (counting injury replacements) bestowed the title “all-star”.

The broadcast highlighted Stan Musial’s 12th-inning home run in 1955 as the best all-star moment of all time. A moment like that could never happen today. Musial had four at-bats in that game. Only one player even got three in 2011, while lesser names such as Matt Wieters, Michael Cuddyer, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence were involved in the late-game plays. Several players in the 1955 classic played the whole game, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Al Kaline. And six pitchers went at least three innings, with both teams combining to use just 10. In 2011, the 10th pitcher came in in the top of the sixth. Even in recent years we’ve seen magic moments like the Randy Johnson – John Kruk showdown or Moises Alou’s game-winner. It seems like the potential for magic has been replaced by scripted appearances.

Roy Halladay was throwing a perfect game and taken out after just two innings. It probably wouldn’t have happened, but baseball is built on the beautiful expectation you could see something unexpected in any given game. Being told before the inning is over that a pitcher will be removed no matter what takes away the possibilities that make a game with no clock so great. It ceases to be a game.

Maybe a better term is “showcase” or “extravaganza” or “Above Average Player Special Event Featuring Players Who Have Enjoyed Statistically Fortunate First Halves.” Something that allows baseball to have a spectacle without still terming it “all-star” or a “game.” Since the – shudder – tie of 2002, baseball’s solution has been to make it even more of a gong show with expanded rosters rather than the novel idea of actually playing it – at least a little bit – like a real game. Despite the “this time it counts” line, the game has come to mean less while MLB keeps trying to say it means more.

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~ by Nathan White on July 14, 2011.

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