In preparation for this year’s Fall Classic, we asked Pierre Menard if he would be interested in revising his plans from last season on how to fix Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. “Revise???” Pierre responded indignantly. “What revisions are needed? Fine, change the moronic number of current All-Stars from 32 per side to 34 and we’re done.” We didn’t even go that far. Here, unrevised and from last season, is Pierre on, well, revising the All-Star Game.
Let me set the scene for you: It’s an All-Star Game, and nobody cares.
Let me reset the scene for you: It’s an All-Star Game, and everybody cares.
My esteemed colleague wrote a vapid, nonsensical, and generally tedious post on why the Major League Baseball All-Star Game isn’t that bad. But John S, let’s be honest with ourselves and call a spade a spade. What fan of baseball is actually going to subject themselves to the abject torture that is the All-Star Game? I challenge you, John S, to sit there through the interminable player introductions, ceremonial first pitches, shots of Bud Selig, and not least in inducing woe, the actual four-hour game, and come out on the other side of it thinking yourself somehow enhanced by the experience.
A confession: I have not watched an All-Star Game in its entirety; this is because I have a sense of propriety. I did monitor bits and pieces of last year’s, which proved mildly interesting. But suffice it to say that, each year, Major League Baseball errs more in its All-Star shenanigans than Daniel Uggla.
This isn’t to say that the All-Star Game, however, is an intrinsically flawed idea (as it is in football) or beyond salvaging. In fact, baseball is perhaps the sport best suited for an All-Star Game for two reasons:
1. It is the one in which a single game is the least taxing.
2. More importantly, baseball is the sport that, during regular games, most prevents us from seeing All-Star versus All-Star matchups. This takes a little explanation. In basketball, when two great players face one another, there is often frequent interaction. Stars guard each other, and they try to top one another on their respective offensive ends. It’s why everyone wanted to see Kobe Bryant play LeBron James in the NBA Finals; the two would have gone after each other for potentially seven games, likely bringing out the best in one another and producing quite the show. (see: Bird, Larry v. Wilkins, Dominique).
That doesn’t happen in baseball. Hitters, of course, never “face” one another, and the idea of one hitter “topping” another doesn’t really exist in the sport (for the obvious reason that it would take a lot of finagling for David Ortiz to “top” an Alex Rodriguez two-run home run with his own three-run homer in the bottom of the same inning). Baseball heroism relies, more than any other sport, on happenstance—who happens to be up at the right time. And thus the game has given us heroes named Bill Mazeroski, Gene Larkin, and Francisco Cabrera.
The emergence from behind the arras of a heretofore unknown as hero is a trademark of the baseball postseason. That’s why the All-Star Game, on the other hand, should present us with the predictable ones.
No one can deny the palpable excitement when a great pitcher faces a great hitter. Yet how often does this happen in the regular season? And even when it does, it happens too early to be meaningful, with the game out of reach, or in a game that is meaningless.
There’s also the unique ability in baseball for the defense to literally “make someone else beat you.” So you walk Albert Pujols to load the bases, and make Ryan Ludwick beat you. The punishment for doing so is not nearly as severe as it is in, say, basketball, where guarding LeBron James with five guys leaves four Cavaliers open, and even Anderson Varejao makes his layups more frequently than Ryan Ludwick hits singles.
Those rare times when it does work out right become particularly memorable. It’s one of the enduring legacies of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, because the best closer of all-time and the second-best hitter in the National League that season just happened to be matched up with the game tied and the bases loaded in the Bottom of the 9th.*
*Well, it didn’t “just happen.” Rivera hit Craig Counsell to load the bases, which leads me to one of the five questions I’m dying to ask an athlete: What was Craig Counsell’s reaction to getting hit by that pitch? He was in a position to, with a sharp ground ball or a medium-distance fly ball, drive in the winning run in the Bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series. Furthermore, he was in a no-pressure situation. With second and third, it’s almost impossible to hit into a double play, and if he failed, well, Luis Gonzalez is coming up with two outs. And if Counsell were to drive that run in, he would have the greatest “Game 7 of a World Series, 9th Inning or Later” resume in baseball history: In two Game 7s, Counsell would have driven in the tying run in the 9th inning, scored the winning run in the 11th, and driven in the winning run in the 9th. And you’re telling me none of this ran through his mind while he trotted to first that November night?**
**In case you’re wondering, Michael Young is the Craig Counsell of the All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game should comprise exclusively such matchups. Great pitcher versus great hitter. And there’s no incentive to walk anyone, because it’s an exhibition. How do we make this happen? Simple:
1. Reduce the size of the rosters by one-quarter from 32 to 24 and eliminate this communist “one player from each team” rule. Two ideas that are purely fallacious: A. There are 64 deserving Major League All-Stars; B. Every team contains one of these 64 deserving Major League All-Stars. A cursory glance at the current American League All-Star team (prior to injury replacements) reveals these easy cuts: Josh Hamilton, Brandon Inge, Michael Young, Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Andrew Bailey, Brian Fuentes, and Tim Wakefield.* Nobody, not even Rockies’ fans, want to see Jason Marquis.** (Fine, maybe some Staten Islanders.)
*Basic prerequisites to be a Pierre All-Star: Hit above .250, have an ERA below 4.00, do more than one thing well. I know; I set the bar high.
**Marquis-Inge would probably represent the nadir of All-Star Game matchups.
2. The players starting the game should actually be the best at their position. We’ve been over this before: Fans are ignorami. The fans that take the time to vote for the All-Star Game—up to 25 times, mind you—are bigger ignorami.* It’s not that difficult to discern that Torii Hunter should be starting over Josh Hamilton in center field when Hunter is better in every offensive stat and, pretty clearly, in every possible way defensively.
*My question is: Who actually does that whole Final Vote thing? I looked at the candidates from the National League—Pierre’s league of choice, for obvious reasons—and found the potential players to be more than unsatisfactory. Shane Victorino is like the fifth best hitter on his team. Matt Kemp bats eighth for the Dodgers. I’ve never even heard of Pablo Sandoval. God, any popularity contest won by Brandon Inge is impossibly flawed.**
**I don’t mean to pick on Brandon, who is a good—maybe even very good—baseball player. He is not, however, an All-Star.
You can still let the fans vote; just count their votes as, say, 25% of the total. Give the other three-quarters to, respectively, players, coaches, and writers. Don’t think players care? They will when you see Step 3. Don’t trust writers? Well, stop being hypocritical, because you trust them with the Hall of Fame. Get over it.
2b. The players starting the game should actually play most of the game. Use the reserves as pinch-hitters when they have a better shot against a certain pitcher than the starter. Otherwise, they remain on the bench. Again, these are Major Leaguers. Their confidence can take the hit of being benched in favor of Albert Pujols.
3. Pay out legitimate and hierarchical bonuses for making the All-Star team (most teams already do this as contract incentives, but let’s standardize the practice across baseball). The starters get more than reserves. The winning team gets more than the losing one. It’s basic economics: The best incentive is a financial one. Pride? You serious? Save that for the fourth-grade kickball class.
4. Give teams a—gasp—full week off. Monday through Sunday. Play the game on Wednesday. This way you can actually use pitchers like pitchers, and more players will come to the game because they can still go on vacation afterward.
5. Use pitchers like pitchers. I’m not demanding the starter go seven innings, but three? Can we manage three? Can the next guy go two? Can we set the pitchers up hierarchically so that the bad ones are left over in case we go extras? Here’s how I manage if I’m Charlie Manuel (an identity I have thankfully avoided): Lincecum for three, Haren for two, Johnson for one, Billingsley for one, Bell for one, Broxton for one. The guys who don’t appear are the ones who didn’t deserve to be there. And hey, I’ve got Rodriguez for the 10th, and Santana from then on.
And you know what, you’ve got yourself an All-Star Game. We get to see Lincecum and Halladay (finally, two worthy starters*) face every man in the opposing lineups. And when the game is on the line, maybe Albert Pujols will still be in the game to face Mariano Rivera.
*I’m looking at you, Brad Penny. TWO-time starter.
The pitcher of the era versus the hitter of the era. That’s what an All-Star Game is for.