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Let’s try to improve the All-Star Game

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The Midsummer Classic can still be fun, but it has fallen far from its original mission and ratings are declining. How do we fix it?

86th MLB All-Star Game Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It has been a few years since I have watched the All-Star Game. It came to the point where I decided that I am not the target audience for this event. I still voted because I thought it was fun to do so, but this year I did not even do that. I just have no interest in the All-Star Game anymore.

I love baseball as much as anybody, but at the All-Star Game, the best players barely play, there are too many relief pitchers, and flukish ten-week performances are valued over the established track records of true stars. I do not want to see Mike Trout get replaced by Ian Desmond after five innings, and I am sure nobody else enjoyed that either. This is far removed from the game’s original purpose.

The ratings for the All-Star Game have been declining year by year, posting an all-time low last year of 8.71 million viewers. I don’t kid myself; I sincerely do not believe that my reasons for losing interest in the All-Star Game are the same as everyone else’s. I believe those reasons are much simpler.

The Midsummer Classic was first started in 1933. This might surprise you, but the original purpose of the All-Star Game was to showcase its stars. It is really just supposed to be a big marketing event. This is why I object to making selections using two to three months of performances. Players overperform or underperform their true talent levels for long stretches all the time. The best players are capable of maintaining their high levels of performance over multiple years, not just multiple months, and it’s those players who should be showcased.

My philosophy obviously poses a problem with rookies because it automatically disqualifies them. My belief is that if a rookie is performing phenomenally and can be expected to be a star in the making, then he can be in the All-Star Game. Let’s be frank here: An All-Star Game without Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger would be a travesty.

When it comes to baseball, many of its players, coaches, and fans love to commit the logical fallacy of appealing to tradition when confronted with logical reasons to change their views. So in this case, it is ironic that the traditional reasons for the All-Star Game and its selections are more logical than the current ones. I have no idea when it started — perhaps it is when the fans started voting in 1947, or when the internet made player stats readily available — but eventually fans started to vote on All-Stars based on the first two to three months of the season.

The fact of the matter is that very few people subscribe to the belief that All-Star selections should be based on who truly is the best at their respective positions, as opposed to who had the best stats in mid-June. Even in the analytical community I can only think of a few writers off the top of my head who agree with me. Alas, that seems to be just the way it is.

Even though I maintain that the All-Star Game is best used as a talent showcase, the truth is that we do not even need that anymore. Until 15 years ago, the only way to see stars outside of the local team and the occasional national broadcast was via the All-Star Game. Nowadays we can subscribe to MLB.tv and watch any player, at any time, on any device. That, in my humble opinion, is why interest for the Midsummer Classic has declined. We can see whomever we want, whenever we want.

One could even go so far as to argue that the All-Star Game should be eliminated entirely. It has long since lost its original purpose, and I am not sure what its current purpose even is anymore. If there never was an All-Star Game, what would be the rationale behind starting it? Players still see it as an honor to go, but the fact of the matter is that they are getting punished for excelling at their profession. Everybody else gets four much-needed days off in the middle of the season, but the All-Stars have to work.

The good news is that the game no longer counts anymore. That is a step in the right direction. Here is what I propose for improving the All-Star Game and possibly drawing more interest.

  1. This is the most drastic change. Instead of having the game midseason, schedule it right before the season even begins. Can you think of a better way to kick off the season and build excitement for it than to exhibit the game’s best talents? The players will be fresh, too, and there would be fewer problems with them missing the game due to injury. This admittedly would pose a problem for Opening Day starters, so it would have to be held four or five days before Opening Day. I think that this way the fans would be more likely to vote on track record since the previous season would not be fresh in their minds. At the very least they would go by a full season of performance.
  2. Give the fans complete control of the rosters. No decisions by managers or players. The event is for the fans, after all.
  3. Eliminate the requirement that each team needs at least one representative. If a team does not have any stars, oh well.
  4. Two slots max for relief pitchers for each team. Elite relief pitching should be acknowledged, but it has gotten out of control in recent years. For example, last year Alex Colomé was chosen over Justin Verlander, David Price, and Masahiro Tanaka.
  5. The rosters need to be much smaller. Last year’s NL roster cracked 40 players as a result of injuries and starters being replaced. Not only is there no need to have that many players for one game, it devalues the honor of being an All-Star.
  6. Allow the game to end in a tie. I know it is not satisfying, but there is no need to go to extras when the game does not matter.

So what do we do with those four days in mid-July? Keep the time off for the players. They work hard and deserve the break, and this way all the players can enjoy the time off.

I am a big fan of using the four-day hiatus for the All-Star Futures Game. Ironically, it does a better job of showcasing the minor leagues’ best talent than the major league version does for its talent. The problem is that it is always poorly scheduled. It is played on the Sunday before the All-Star Game and conflicts with major league games. Give it its own day like the major league All-Star Game with no conflicts whatsoever. It could get a big ratings boost from fans desperate to watch any baseball, and it could increase excitement for the game’s best prospects.

Believe me, I am not expecting my ideas to be implemented, even if they were generally seen as good ideas. The NHL has experimented with different formats in recent years to improve the ratings of its All-Star Game. If ratings continue to decline, and there is no reason to believe that they won’t, Rob Manfred is going to have to consider some experimenting of his own.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.