The Major League Baseball All-Star Game has always held special importance for sports fans during the summer months.
It’s a game that has brought some of the most-memorable moments in the history of baseball itself.
From Charlie Hustle’s passionate play to Cal Ripken Jr’s final appearance, these are memories seared into the minds of baseball fans, and passed down from one generation to the next.
The Midsummer Classic never needed to mean anything. There was no reason for the league to attempt to spike interest in the product. It wasn’t akin to the NFL’s Pro Bowl or the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, one of which has proven irrelevant, the other representing exactly what it is, a weekend for the fans.
We were already interested in the All-Star Game long before then commissioner Bud Selig made the knee-jerk decision to let the game itself decide home-field advantage in the World Series. Selig’s decision was rooted in a belief that he needed to do something to create more interest in the exhibition after the 2002 version ended in a tie.
While the reasoning behind making the All-Star Game matter was (and remains) foolish, the fact that the game itself is important shouldn’t be a point of contention among baseball fans and purists.
What are the alternatives here? Would you rather see MLB players decide not to show up? That’s happened at an alarming rate around the National Football League.
And while previous eras of players made sure to provide entertainment by showing up for the game, there’s no reason to believe this generation of talented players would follow suit.
As Bryce Harper would like us to believe, this era of baseball should mold itself into something completely separate from previous eras. That in and of itself could have led to star players deciding a few days off was more important than appearing in an exhibition game.
Now that the game counts, this isn’t an option. Harper, along with the game’s other young stars, have an extra incentive to not only play in the All-Star Game, but work their tails off when actually on the diamond.
It’s created an on-field dynamic we don’t see in any of the other three major North American professional sports.
That’s the first point we must note, one that most people simply decide to ignore when criticizing the importance of the Midsummer Classic.
This year’s version of the All-Star Game will feature a National League squad with San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto and catcher Buster Posey acting as the battery to start the game. San Francisco boasts the best record in the Majors, and clearly understands the importance of the game.
Meanwhile, the second-best team in the Senior Circuit, the Chicago Cubs, will send four starters to the diamond to open up the game in San Diego on Tuesday night. Do you honestly believe Joe Maddon and Co. don’t care about the outcome of the game?
At 49-38, the Boston Red Sox currently find themselves two games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. Boston is also in position to earn one of the two wild card spots in the Junior Circuit. With four starters taking to the field on Tuesday night, the Sox surely have reason to compete hard in this game.
That’s the way it should be. The best players from the best teams in baseball helping to dictate who will come away with home-field advantage in the World Series.
Fans have a rooting interest in this as well. If you’re a Giants fan, you’re definitely going to be pushing hard for the players on your favorite team to perform well. The same can be said in Chicago and Boston.
Some might conclude the obvious. If the game is meant to matter, why does baseball require that every team is represented by at least one player? This is a good question, one we don’t necessarily have an answer to.
Though, the primary reason for this requirement is to make sure fan bases all throughout the baseball world are interested in the exhibition game. That much is clear.
Another point of contention is fan voting. Why do those with subjective leanings have the right to play a role in deciding who starts? As we saw last season in Kansas City, ballot stuffing has been an issue. Then again, this keeps fans engaged in the process, and ensures continued interest in the game itself.
One last issue to cover. The game is played on Tuesday. Why not move it to Wednesday as a way to ensure those who pitched on the final day before the break (Sunday) can actually take to the bump for the exhibition? After all, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner will not appear for the National League squad this season.
These are fixes that should be made. They also don’t discount the importance of the All-Star Game itself counting. It is by far the most entertaining of the four major sports, and has continued to provide fans with tremendous moment after tremendous moment.
So next time you consider criticizing baseball’s decision to make this game matter, think about the alternative. Last time I checked, no one is really paying much attention to the Pro Bowl.