Pablo Sandoval will start over David Wright in the All Star Game in Kansas City. Why? – Because he got more votes than Wright. Does Sandoval deserve to start? From the perspective of performance—no, not while Wright is in the same league.
The fact that Wright is not starting points out what a joke the All Star Game has become, at least in my opinion. While the game is supposed to celebrate its stars, instead it points out its contradictions.
In recent years, the winner of the ASG determines which league gets home field advantage for the World Series. This was a gimmick from the get-go. The ratings of the ASG have sagged over time. The powers that be set out to do something that would boost interest in the game. Why did fans turn away from the ASG to begin with? There are a host of reasons, some of which have little to do with the game itself.
In years past, the ASG was a way for fans in the host city to see stars they did not see on a regular basis. It also provided a TV outlet for fans to see super stars compete against each other. Unlike New York, most city’s had (and still have) one team. In those markets, the chance to see a Willie Mays or a Frank Robinson was remote at best. Sure, you might see them on NBC’s Game of the Week but ultimately it was rare to witness the greats of the game and it was quite a treat to see them in one setting.
The ASG served as a platform where all the stars could come together in one venue to play a game, a game where the stars from one league played against stars of the other. It was a great concept but over time its meaning has become deluded.
What else made the ASG great theatre was the fact it was played very competitively. Initially, players were not chosen by the fans. They were chosen by those in the game who knew who was having a great year and who was not. Plus not every team was represented. Only the best players made the team and often those players played the entire game. And sometimes, those players got hurt and no question that was an issue.
As free agency took hold and player contracts soared, owners became very leery in regard to their players playing in a game that was not very meaningful. That’s when we began to see the stars get a couple of at bats then out of the game they went. Even some players themselves did not see the great honor it was to represent their team at the ASG.
Of course today there is the issue of overexposure. Baseball in the media is everywhere—TV, radio, the Internet, and your hand held device. With ESPN, Fox, TBS, and MLB Network, you can watch many out of town games every week at no extra charge to your cable or satellite bill. A real junky can purchase the Extra Innings package for TV. The Internet has its own package—MLB.TV where you can watch or listen to every out of town game on your computer, iPad, or hand held device. Unlike years ago when the home teams did not even telecast every game, today you can overload on baseball for very little expense. With so much exposure to the game’s stars on a daily basis, the ASG has further lost its luster.
When the system was changed so that fans could vote, there was nothing stopping them from stuffing the ballot box. But it still was a primitive system requiring fans to fill out paper ballots and mailing them in or putting them in ballot boxes at the ballpark. Today, voting is done on the internet. You can vote up to 25 times per email address. As an experiment, I voted for Wright (and my other selections) 75 times by using three different legitimate email addresses. Seeing that Wright was way ahead I stopped voting because a) I figured he would win and b) I really don’t like voting like this.
Also, today all teams must have at least one representative on the ASG roster. Fair enough since every team usually has at least one star player. But a problem I see is the ASG managers try to get every player on the roster into the game. Then when players are needed at the end of the game, they are no longer available and the game is decided by all stars but not the best all stars. Up until last season, many stars climbed into their limousines and even left the ballpark before the game had ended!
The ASG used to be just the game. Today it is a three day event that begins on Sunday and goes through the conclusion of the game Tuesday evening. It begins with the futures game in the ASG ballpark on Sunday afternoon. There is a fan fest, a place for fans to gather, meet people in the game and take part in all kinds of activities. Home Run Derby on the Monday evening appears to be as big an event as the game itself. Plus there is a celebrity softball game too that helps give exposure to former players and stars plugging new sitcoms. Suffice to say, All Star week has become an orgy for the baseball junkie. The problem is the average fan could not care less and even the hard core fans, like myself, see many shortcomings.
The main problem as I see it, if the game is to determine the home field advantage for the World Series, then it must be played like a real baseball game and the fact is, it is not. The ASG is played like an exhibition, a showcase where all the stars get to play. Fine, if that’s what baseball and its fans want then don’t make the outcome determine who gets four home games in October. It is completely contradictive.
I do not understand why the best team with the best record overall simply does not get home field advantage throughout the playoffs including the Series. That’s the way it is done in every professional sport except baseball (and in fairness football but that is only because the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site). If the Yankees end up with the best record overall during the regular season, then they should have home field advantage if they get to the Series.
The argument against best team getting home field is the planning it takes to make hotel reservations, etc. Another contradiction is that now, the best teams in the NL and AL do get home field advantage through the League Championship Series. And now with ten teams making the playoffs, no one knows who will be in the World Series until the ALCS and NLCS conclude anyway. I’m not buying this excuse.
The ASG is flawed. I don’t care how Bud Selig spins it. If home field advantage is to teeter on the outcome, then the voting of players must change. If fans can vote up to 25 times with one email address, doesn’t that encourage stuffing the ballot? Why not limit one vote to one email address. At least that discourages stuffing to some degree. It’s unlikely each fan is going to open 100 email accounts to vote for their favorite player.
Here’s another idea, go back to paper ballots that can only be submitted at Major League ballparks. How’s that for getting serious?
Pablo Sandoval is having a fine year. He’s hitting .300/.362./.471 with 6 homers and 25 RBI. But Wright has been phenomenal with .354/.447/.560 with 9 homers and 50 RBI. The fact that Sandoval is starting over Wright says all that needs to be said about the All Star Game.