Monday, July 4, 2011

How to Improve the MLB All-Star Game

By Vito Curcuru

Every year, baseball fans are taken down memory lane to when MLB's All-Star Game "meant something." Players cared, fans cared, and Pete Rose slid headfirst and injured Ray Fossee in an All-Star Game play for the ages. It was a matter of national honor and pride to win the All-Star Game and everyone cared because it really "meant something."

Somewhere all of that was lost and it culminated in the infamous tie at the 2002 All-Star Game and MLB did something about it. Every game thereafter has been proclaimed to "count" because home-field advantage for the World Series is awarded to the winning league. The good news is baseball tried. The bad news is the grand experiment has failed. It doesn't matter how many times fans are told "this one counts" and the fate of the World Series is at hand-the game is still boring.

The simple way to fix the All-Star Game is to eliminate the All-Star Game. Baseball truly had the game fans cared about and players wanted to win, but that game doesn't exist any more. However, due to the money involved, the tradition, and because summer is slow for sports, MLB's All-Star Game should be saved and improved.

Make the Game Truly Count

Awarding World Series home-field advantage to the winner was a knee-jerk reaction to Bud Selig's stupidity and the manager's of the 2002 All-Star Game's inability to actually manage their roster and a game.

Home-field advantage belongs to the team with the best record. The team with the best record has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and this should continue through to the World Series. It is bad enough the two leagues play by different rules with the designated hitter (DH) rule in the American League and pitcher's hitting in the National League, but home-field advantage being determined in the summer makes the situation worse. The team with the best record should have the advantage in the World Series when it comes to the rules the World Series is played under for a majority of the games.

To make the All-Star Game truly count, the DH rule for interleague play should be at stake for the season. The All-Star Game would need to be moved to the second week of June and interleague series would need to start after the All-Star Game. An alternative is to start interleague play after the All-Star Game.

Currently, interleague play has the home team determining the style of baseball played. American League teams get to use the DH and National League teams don't, so fans don't get to see the other league's style of baseball. The point in interleague play was for fans to see the other league's teams and the different styles of play.

If the DH rule is at stake in the All-Star Game, then fans have a new stake in the game. Some fans will root for their league so their teams have the advantage and some may root against their league so they can see a different style of play.

Players will care because their team will have an advantage in interleague play. American League pitchers will want to win so they don't have to hit and National League pitchers won't want to face the DH. Managers will want to play their "brand of baseball" and designated hitters will care because they will want to play in the interleague games.

Finally, if the DH rule is at stake, then it is likely that the best team in baseball will come from the league that had the advantage in interleague play. Ultimately, the game could determine home-field advantage for the World Series.

Choose a Team's Entire Staff to Coach the Teams

A manager shouldn't have to feel obligated to take other managers and random staff members to the game. Let the best team in the league take its staff to manage the game. This will ensure the team with the best record is well represented in the game and there is continuity to managing the game. It doesn't make any sense that several managers go to the game and one of the managers is in charge.

The game should be managed like any other game. The team would have a manager, a bench coach, a first base coach, a third base coach and the rest of the staff fulfilling their normal roles. Then there is clear leadership in the clubhouse, everyone is pulling in the same direction, and the manager has a chance to win the game with his style of play. His usual style of managing will prevail as opposed to a hodge-podge of managerial styles in each clubhouse.

How to Choose the Rest of the Team

The coaching staff and front of office of the best team should be the group determining the players not elected by the fans. Each team should still be represented, but the front office of the best team in the league should work with the coaches of the best team to choose the team they believe will win the game. Allow baseball's best to assemble an actual team they want to play with during the game. This will most likely increase the number of middle relievers chosen. The team will be built to win a game and won't be a laundry list of players with the most wins or hits and who might not actually be able to play in the game.

As it stands, a lot of starting pitchers are chosen because they have all-star-caliber numbers, but they will most likely not be able to pitch in the actual All-Star Game.

As an example, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers pitches very close to the All-Star Game, which will probably prohibit him from pitching in the actual game. He is worthy of being considered an all-star and fans want to see baseball's best in the game, but what is the point in naming him as an all-star if he can't actually play? Relievers are used to pitching in back to back games and many have all-star-type seasons without the recognition.

If players feel like they are being snubbed because they have put up the best numbers and weren't chosen, then have honorary designations at the All-Star Game to honor league leaders in certain statistics. It shouldn't be necessary to do this, however, and will hurt the game in the long run.

This is how the NFL's Pro Bowl has become one of the worst all-star games in sports. The seventh best quarterback in each conference ends up in the game because the first six are too busy, don't want to play, are injured, and don't show up. Baseball is quickly following suit because many pitchers are having all-star-caliber seasons, but won't actually get to play in the game. What is the point? If players want to be honored as all-stars, then have midseason awards given to the statistical leaders.

There can be statistical all-stars and the actual all-stars playing in the game. Then, like a little league team, everyone will get an award and everyone will get to play. It sounds dumb because it is dumb. Players should be striving for the awards given at the end of the season and wins for their team. The Cy Young, the triple crown, and MVP should not be equated with all-star recognition. Being an all-star means you have had a pretty good first half and if being named an all-star is important then, players should be reminded there are two halves to a season.

With interleague rules at stake, one team's entire coaching at the game, and the best team's coaching staff and front office in charge of the roster of the All-Star Game, the game would once again mean something to players, fans, and would "really count."

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