Sports

Picking Splinters: An All-Star Debate

Mr. Hume,

Mid-summer is here and – surprise, surprise – there are snubs for the All-Star team. Will people ever stop complaining that we, er, baseball never gets the rosters right?

Bud S.

No, people will never stop complaining, because the rosters will never be “right.”

Hear me out: No one knows what the heck the All-Star game means any more. Some people think it’s a way to honor the players who perform the best in the season’s first half. Some think it’s a way to honor players’ entire careers. Some fans think it’s a way to show their love for their favorite players, whether they deserve the votes or not.

Then there are those that believe it matters to have home field advantage in the World Series. For them, the rosters should be based on players that give you the best chance at winning the game – including role players that excel at pinch-hitting, pinch-running and situational relief pitching.

So who’s right? Who cares! In my opinion, the debate is the best thing Major League Baseball could hope for.

Let’s check out the most serious argument, that this game actually means something.

The American League has won 12 of the last 13 all-star games, with the 13th ending in a tie. So, you’d think the AL would be dominating the World Series since they always have home-field advantage. But since the game decided home-field advantage in the World Series in 2003, the AL has won four titles to the NL’s three. It’s a small sample size, but home-field advantage hasn’t provided much of an edge yet.

To me, that’s enough to justify leaving the bullpen ace with a 1.09 ERA against left-handers at home. It might make the game more interesting that it “means” something, but no one is ready to add role players to the rosters.

So, if winning and losing doesn’t really matter, where does that leave us? ESPN’s Keith Law put it best when he recently wrote the following:

“The All-Star Game is a marketing event.

“I’m sure many fans see it simply as a way to reward the players who’ve had the best first 80 games in baseball; I know I thought that way as a kid. But that ignores the true intent of the game, which is to sell the heck out of baseball by getting all the best and best-known players into a single meaningless game to attract a national audience. That’s not such a terrible idea. And taking those hot first-half guys puts a number of flukes on the team every year, leaving better and more deserving players home while bestowing the ‘All-Star’ tag for life on players who probably will never sustain All-Star performance for as much as a full season.”

I think Law is spot on with that analysis. Will everyone see it that way? No. And that’s fine too. In fact, if I’m Bud Selig, I’m thrilled when TVs and radios are blaring with the sound of disdain and debate over the rosters. Why? Again, because it’s about marketing the game. And any publicity is good publicity.

Just look at the World Cup. I bet many of you never cared a lick about soccer. But the U.S. gets hosed out of a crucial goal and all the sudden it’s page-one news for days on end. There are follow-up articles and examinations of referees’ track records and scrutiny over arcane FIFA rules and pretty soon people all across the country people are talking non-stop about your sport.

While some may ultimately be turned off to soccer because of poor refereeing and hard-to-comprehend rules (offsides is like the Finnegan’s Wake of rules) the debate over all-star rosters isn’t nearly so off-putting. No one is going to stop watching baseball because Joey Votto got snubbed. In fact, with the new format that allows fans to vote in a final player, people are going to be monitoring the game (and the snubs) closer than ever to achieve justice. The winner? Major League Baseball.

Will the rosters ever be right? Doubtful. Between the different interpretations of the game and the different evaluations of the players, no one will ever agree. But in my mind, that lack of unanimous consent is a very good thing for the game of baseball.