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MLB All-Star Game’s continued irrelevance could be saved by going international

Jul 14, 2014, 2:47 PM EST

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – You might not be old enough to remember this, but Battle of Network Stars used to be a thing. Every now and again, a bunch of television “stars” – let’s just put “stars” in quotations because it wasn’t like Johnny Carson was out there – would gather together in some fairly exotic location like Hawaii and compete in various “sporting” events.

Yeah, we need to put “sporting” in quotations too because while they did have some actual sports in there like swimming and cycling, they also had pseudo-sports like tug of war and an obstacle course and so on.

It was entertaining at the time, partly because we were so starved for something resembling sports on television that we would watch anything, and partly because Howard Cosell was the announcer, and Cosell was incapable of lowering the volume or intensity for trivial competitions. With Cosell, everything was at least as important as the Super Bowl or the seventh game of the World Series. So you would hear him shout things like, “One thing you have to say about Patrick Duffy is that he’s a COMPETITOR!” or “Robert Wagner doesn’t know the MEANING of the word quit!” Sometimes it seemed Cosell got the irony. And sometimes, it seemed, he did not.

Point is that we as a country used to love stuff like that. Superstars competitions. Battle of the Network Stars. Battle of the Sexes. Match races. All-Star Games galore. You know, every year an all-star team of college football players would face against the Super Bowl champion. It is a very funny thing to see a young person discover THAT for the first time. Their faces go pale, and their eyes widen, and they sputter, “They … they … they … DID WHAT?” There are so many baffling things about the old College All-Star exhibition – injury risks for young players, injury risks for old players, absurdity of a Super Bowl team actually playing a bunch of college kids – that they don’t know where to begin.

But we can begin here: We don’t care about pointless games now. We just don’t. And the range of pointlessness has expanded – we don’t care like we did about horse races that are not the Kentucky Derby, track events that are not the Olympics, boxing matches that are not for some sort of championship. We’ve replaced all of that in the American psyche with stuff at least tangentially connected with sports we DO care about – stuff like the NFL Draft and recruiting and free agency and those viral stories of the day. We’d rather talk and tweet and text and argue about where LeBron James will sign or what nutty thing Johnny Manziel will do next than watch sporting events that don’t count.

And that brings us, yet again, to the All-Star Game.

Well, every single year we write about how much the All-Star Game has lost. Last year, about 11 million people watched – one-third of the audience from 1982, one-half of the audience from 1994, thirty-one percent down from five years ago. But perhaps the most sobering fact was reported by Sports Business Journal: The average age of the All-Star Game viewer was 53. That would be a five followed by a three.
Whenever I am in the younger demographic of a television audience, you have real problems.

Well, the All-Star Game just doesn’t make sense anymore. It made sense when few baseball games were on television and the opportunity to see the stars play was magical. It made sense when the American and National Leagues were truly separate – before interleague play, before free agency, before easy travel between the leagues, before teams switched leagues – and so the only time you might see Johnny Bench face Jim Palmer was in the World Series or All-Star Game. It made sense when we CARED about meaningless games just for the enjoyment of the moment.

All that stuff is gone. Bud Selig’s rather desperate effort to attach meaning to the game by having it determine World Series homefield advantage hasn’t added anything at all, largely because it doesn’t matter to anyone now. It won’t matter to anyone for months, and even then it will only matter to fans of teams actually in the World Series. And for teams in the World Series, it will seem impossibly stupid to have homefield advantage determined by some single in the eighth inning by an All-Star pinch-hitter off an All-Star middle reliever.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about it: What can be done to make the All-Star Game matter again? It’s still an amazing opportunity for baseball – the All-Star Game still has one of the best stages in sports. It’s a Tuesday night in July when NOTHING ELSE is going on. And, weirdly enough, I started thinking about lessons the All-Star Game can take from the Home Run Derby.

It’s weird because: I very much dislike the Home Run Derby. Almost everyone I know does. It’s a terrible event live. It’s a terrible event on television, viewed through the prism of Chris Berman shouting “back-back-back.” The Derby is repetitive and dull and generally annoying.
BUT … it does something the All-Star Game does not. It sticks in the mind. I was thinking about the Home Run Derby the last decade or so and found, to my utter shock, that memories flooded back. I immediately remembered Josh Hamilton’s home run barrage as he was completing a comeback that blew the mind – that was inspiring. Bobby Abreu hit a billion homers one year, that was pretty amazing. Ryan HowardPrince Fielder … Vlad Guerrero … I remember these moments pretty vividly. I remember Robinson Cano winning with his dad pitching. I remember Robinson Cano flailing helplessly as Kansas City fans booed him for leaving hometown hero Billy Butler off the Derby team.

Then, I was thinking about All-Star Game memories from the last decade: I came up completely empty. I could not think of a single one – and I’ve BEEN to almost every All-Star Game in the last decade. The last vivid memory I have from an All-Star Game was the 2002 tie game calamity, more than a decade ago. And I’ve BEEN to the All-Star Games. Before that, I remember them stopping the game in the middle to honor Cal Ripken.

So why is the Derby more memorable to me (and the numerous others I asked) than the All-Star Game? I think it’s simply this: It’s completely different. The All-Star Game is just another game, one of 3,000 or so that will be played this year if you count spring training and the postseason. Yes, it has the best players (or some reasonable facsimile), and yes it has great history with Ted Williams’ game-winner and Bo Jackson’s bomb to center and Pedro Martinez’s two thrilling innings of strikeouts and whatever. But, in the end, it’s a meaningless game. And we don’t have any time for such things.

The Home Run Derby, for all its many flaws, is DIFFERENT. Same thing with the dunk contest, which is better than the NBA All-Star Game. It acknowledges that people have changed, that it isn’t enough to just get together a few familiar stars and have them play a game for no real purpose. We don’t watch sports like that anymore.

So, it’s really simple: Baseball can keep playing the All-Star Game as is, and fewer people will watch every year. Or they can learn from their own history and figure out a way to make the game memorable again.

* * *

OK, since you asked, here’s what I would do to make the All-Star Game matter again: I would put together one Major League Baseball All-Star Team and have them play a game against a Japanese League All-Star team.

Yes, of course there would be some logistical concerns. But there are so many good things about this game that I don’t even feel like there’s a need to sell it … but here are just three:

1. It would bring back some real meaning to the game. The thing about the old All-Star Game was that players used to feel some sense of pride for the league they played. The National League was older and more established, the American League was the upstart. Then the National League was much more active in integration, while the American League moved slowly. Then the National League won a bunch in a row. And so on. Now, nobody CARES what league they play in. Heck, the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers happily swapped leagues.

But if you had MLB against Japan … you better believe players would care.

2. The Japanese Leagues are obviously much, much better than people generally seem to believe in America. It’s obvious because in recent years players like Ichiro, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Koji Uehara and so on have become mega-stars in the big leagues. It would be so good for baseball to get the leagues closer together.

3. The All-Star Game would become a world-wide event in a way that it is not now. Baseball does not celebrate its worldliness as much as it should. There are several different languages spoken in every clubhouse. The best players bring new cultures and new styles into the sport. It’s funny; baseball’s championship has been called the World Series for 100 years, but in many ways the world was not invited. I think you begin by bringing in a Japanese All-Star Team, but over time you could add players from Korea and China and Latin American countries. Make it the World All-Star Game.

Anyway, it’s just one idea.

  1. tsi431 - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    If you want to make it more enjoyable. It needs to be Under 25 vs Over 25. Pick your all star team from all MLB baseball levels (A, AA, AAA, MLB). Bring some actual life to the game with the “get off my lawn” old men vs the boys.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:07 PM

      I think a timing issue would help, regardless of over/under 25, Japan vs. MLB (which wouldn’t float my boat, either), etc. Make Saturday, not Sunday, the pre-ASG cutoff day. All games have a 1 p.m. start time.

      That way, the Futures game isn’t competing against MLB games, when it’s played on **Saturday.**

      Meanwhile, the big shebang, complete with HR derby and whatever else, is all on **Sunday** instead of **Monday.**

      No effing brainer.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:30 PM

        Brain fart. I meant Friday for the cutoff. Futures Game Friday night. You could have MLB stuff on both Saturday, and daytime Sunday. ASG Sunday night. And, in exchange for sacrificing an off day elsewhere, Monday also becomes a day off. Shove back HOF voting, and announce the winners, if any, on post-ASG Monday or something.

  2. mscott4 - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    MLB All-Stars versus Japan League stars would make me care far far less about the game.

  3. sdelmonte - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    I don’t get it. I like this game. I like the Home Run Derby. I wouldn’t change a thing. And twice today I’m being told I am not only wrong, but that I should be complaining about how bad things are. Sometimes I wonder about everyone’s negativity. And I’m a grump!

    • psuorioles - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      I’m like you and actually enjoy the HR Derby and ASG… can things be done differently, sure; but I view it as pure entertainment…

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:43 PM

      I like it too, but I would love to see a MLB/Japan game as well.. how about both? One more baseball game than before!

      • Ayase Yano - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:35 PM

        It’s gonna happen some time in November, as a Japanese person myself I’m definitely looking forward to it. (just don’t rob our good players pls…)

    • bellweather22 - Jul 15, 2014 at 1:49 AM

      Back. Back. Back. Back. Yeah, the HR derby is awesome.

  4. bronco58lb - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Baseball’s Midsummer Classic is the original “All-Star Game”. It’s appealing to me because of its tradition. I think the US vs Japan would be better suited in a post-World Series, Champions League title game. You can even include KBO and Cuban champions for a semifinal.

  5. Eutaw's Finest - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    Look at the bigger picture here: All Star games in ALL major sports are completely irrelevant. The NFL Pro Bowl has lower ratings than Sham Wow infomercials. The NBA All Star game gets lower ratings than the dunk contest, and lower than most regular season NBA games. The NHL All Star game is… well I don’t know because I don’t watch it, but I can assure you it prospers about as much as the NHL prospers in Florida markets. And then there’s the MLB All Star game. I mean… it’s gotta be the best of the best in terms of All Star Game ratings right?

    I just think this is the beginning of the end of all All Star games. I’m perfectly content not having those games anymore and simply recognizing the best of the best at the end of the season with Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and MVP’s and ROY’s and whatever other awards exist.

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      Actually, the Pro Bowl gets pretty good ratings. It’s why they haven’t gotten rid of it despite people complaining about it being boring the last few years.

      • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 15, 2014 at 6:33 AM

        Maybe it’s just me then, but I haven’t bothered to watch it since the years they had the skills competitions, which I found more entertaining than the game itself. And it seems everybody I talk to is on the same page too. But I guess ratings are ratings…

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        Yeah, I haven’t watched the Pro Bowl in years.

    • jpaugh19 - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:05 PM

      The NHL All-Star game is basically a game for the scorers. Goalies barely try to stop goals. And there’s barely any defense. It’s mostly for the goal scorers. The Skills Challenge the day before is always fun to watch. Google Alex Ovechkin Skills Challenge. You’ll find some pretty funny highlights. They also have a contest for hardest shot. Current record is 108.8 set by Zdeno Chara

      Here’s the scores for the ASG since the ’04-’05 Lockout

      ’06 No game due to the XX Winter Olympic Games
      ’07 West 12 – East 9
      ’08 East 8 – West 7
      ’09 East 12 – West 11 (Ended with shoot-out)
      ’10 No game due to the XXI Winter Olympic Games
      ’11 Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10 (Changed from Conference vs Conference to Captain vs Captain)
      ’12 Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
      ’13 – No game due to NHL Lockout
      ’14 – No game due to XXII Winter Olympic Games

      • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:05 AM

        Trust me- I’m a Caps fan. I know all about the Skills Challenge and Ovi. I’ve just never really watched the actual game. I’m much rather see fastest skater on a lap, or fastest slap shot, or breaking plates on target practice. Much more entertaining!

  6. The Dangerous Mabry - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    I was afraid you were going to suggest another “USA vs the World” kind of thing where it was all MLB players, and that didn’t really do anything for me. The idea of playing “MLB vs NPB” or even “MLB vs non-MLB” is far more intriguing.

    I imagine three major roadblocks would be:
    1) Fewer MLB all-stars, since there’d only be one roster
    2) Fewer all-star games hosted in MLB parks, assuming that every other year would be hosted in Japan
    3) Participation issues, since players may not want to spend their all-star break flying 20 hours to Japan and back.

    But there’s definitely something interesting here to me.

    • greywilliams - Jul 14, 2014 at 9:10 PM

      I actually like the “US v the World” angle, it would just need to be more interesting. Best player from Mexico, Canada, Domincan, etc., at least ONE player from each nation represented in MLB (even Netherlands with Didi Gregorius). Maybe make it where no nation could have two STARTERS… and maybe count any Blue Jay, regardless of origin, as “international”
      On the US side, maybe no two starters from the same MLB team. And maybe that applies to the World team as well.

      And allow each country to vote in their own all-stars.

      Anyone care to project rosters based on these rules?

  7. raysfan1 - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    But…but…if we did away with the AL vs NL format, how…how would we ever determine the home field for the World Series? *gasps, then faints*

    • rbts2014 - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:33 PM

      coin toss should determine home field in years where there is no AL vs NL matchup.

      There should be a rotating MLB “All-Star” game format to keep things interesting.

      AL vs NL, the next year MLB vets vs MLB Rookies/Sophs, the following year US vs World (mirroring the Futures Game except with MLB players), then back to AL vs NL, etc.

    • baberuthslegs - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:41 PM

      The way it used to be… alternate home field each year.

    • moogro - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      Alternating years is OK, but maybe best W-L record or something earned should get home field advantage.

    • raysfan1 - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:42 PM

      Y’all do realize I was being sarcastic, right?

      • raysfan1 - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:13 PM

        Ie, most anything you come up with would be better than basing it on the outcome of an exhibition game.

  8. sisisisisisisi - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    We are having enuff problems of selecting 50 players or so, and you want to cut that in half?

  9. scatterbrian - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Battle of the Network Stars needs to happen again.

    • infieldhit - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:43 PM

      Apparently they had one a few years ago, but the “stars” were limited to whoever had a show on the network that was airing it. Doing it the old way now would be potentially fun.

    • bellweather22 - Jul 15, 2014 at 1:47 AM

      Can Kyle Rote Jr still run the obstacle course? OK, I’m in!

  10. claypaciorek - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    You have zero memories from the last 10 All-Star games? Zero? Really? Not even last year when Rivera came in for his final All Star game appearance and the whole park basically froze so he could have the spotlight? That didn’t give you chills?

    • snitor - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:09 PM

      I remembered that. But what you mean is… one memory? From last year?

      • claypaciorek - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:58 PM

        Not really. I was just illustrating that as recently as last year there was a great moment. More? Prince Fielder’s triple made me chuckle, Ichiro’s inside the parker in 2007, Michael Young’s triple with two outs in the 9th to take the lead in 2006. Im not saying these are life changing moments but I enjoyed watching them. I just found it a bit dramatic that he said he had zero memories from 10 years of all star games.

  11. blindredhat - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    A US vs. Japan All-Star Game won’t cut it. We don’t know the Japanese players, and the game won’t teach us who they are and, more importantly, will do nothing to make us care about who they are. Plus, there is no natural rivalry we have with Japan that creates an existential competitive tension in the way the US vs. the Soviet Union did in the Olympics. (The Olympics, by the way, became completely meaningless, at least for me, the moment the Soviet Union dissolved.)

    There’s only one way to go back to what the All-Star Game once was, two ways actually, both needing each other to make the whole thing work: one is to eliminate Interleague play, so that the differences between leagues actually mean something again; and the other is to eliminate the Home Run Derby, which as you correctly point out has become the more important and memorable event taking place during the All-Star break. In concert with each other, these are the only two actions that could be taken that could infuse any serious meaning back into the All-Star Game.

    Doing this would not get the ASG all the way back to what it was–we still have a thousand channel universe today versus fewer than a dozen in 1982; and there will still be on average eighty baseball games available to us on television during the week instead of just a few (or fewer) local games and a network game of the week, so the sense of scarcity will never come back. But the elimination of the HR Derby and of Interleague play would get us closer than anything else would.

    However, we all know that neither of those two things will happen. There’s simply too much money tied up in keeping both those things just the way they are. So I believe that we have no choice but to accept that the All-Star Game as presented in our youth is a relic of the black-and-white monaural past, and that the meaningfulness of the game has been diminished beyond all ability to substantially restore it.

    • urallstupid - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:06 PM

      yes eliminate the thing that people actually want to watch, just so that they have no other choice but to watch the thing that they didnt want to watch in the first place. great logic.

  12. mikhelb - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    A few days ago friends and I were discussing this same topic, somebody said “an hispanoamerican players team vs US players” (so people could have a chance to feel patriotic and chant: USA! USA! USA! USA!), but it soon dawned on him that the US team would have mostly meh players while the hispanoamerican team would be stoked, with megastars in bench of the bench roles.

    As it is, it is a good spectacle, but nothing more, and outside of the US it is broadcasted mainly in pay tv, a few years ago it was on OTA TV in the biggest hispanoamerican market for MLB (México), but the company with the rights has done a lot to bury baseball (their contract states they HAVE to broadcast games live OTA and they do that in a small city or two and for the rest lf the 100+ million people in the country, it is on pay tv).

  13. goodknave - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    I liked the 2002 game. I was in one of those “square pools’ (like you see with the Super Bowl), and I drew 7 for the NL and 7 for the AL. Unless it was 17-7, I had no chance. But wait!
    It may have been the most unexpected gambling victory of my life.

  14. renaado - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2014/06/11/baseball/mlb/mlb-star-squad-face-samurai-japan-november/

    MLB vs Japan all-stars is a go. If you don’t like it don’t watch… Plain and simple.

    • Ayase Yano - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:10 PM

      素个哦i人啊啊的哦—三! 好哦那天哦你!

      You sir are damn updated! Thanks for being the first one to post this.

    • bellweather22 - Jul 15, 2014 at 1:45 AM

      I won’t. I’m getting my nuts waxed that day.

      • Ayase Yano - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:40 AM

        Lmao

  15. johnnysoda - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:28 PM

    That would make the All-Star Game even more irrelevant, considering (a) the quality of most Japanese players is lower than MLB’s players, and (b) the casual audience would have no clue who half the guys playing are.

    Keep it as is.

    • Ayase Yano - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      Japan lineup (Inclined on playing in November)

      C- Mima Manabu/Kobayashi Seiji
      SS-Sakamoto Hayato/Hayato Ito
      1B-Nobuhiko Matsunaka/Yoshinobu Takahashi/Gingi Akaminai
      2B-Takashi Toritani
      3rd-Nobuhiro Matsuda
      DH-Seiya Inoue
      LF-Uchikawa Seichi
      RF-Yoshio Itoi
      CF-Yanagita Yuki/Yamato

      SP-Fuginami Shintaro
      -Otani Shohei
      -Ishikawa Ayumu
      -Matsui Yuki
      -Sugano Tomoyuki

      Relievers? No Idea. So far it’s
      -Matsuda Ryoma
      -Yamaguchi Tetsuya

      This is the only one I can give… I might get charge of betrayal. Goodluck.

      你婆婆年纪 版在!

      • bellweather22 - Jul 15, 2014 at 1:44 AM

        Are those real people, or types of sushi?

      • Ayase Yano - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:14 AM

        Nah, dude, This are the real guys with real guns… Samurai Japan FTW.

      • stevemarines - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:54 AM

        Mima’s a pitcher, doubt he’s going to be catching in these games.

      • stevemarines - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:03 AM

        “types of sushi”, bellweather? Seriously? What an embarrassment of a comment.

      • Ayase Yano - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:14 AM

        Manabu Mima’s a catcher steve, you know Tanaka’s batterymate?

      • Ayase Yano - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:15 AM

        Dammit sorry… It was Shima-san.

  16. eagles512 - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:59 PM

    Still the best all star game in sports and nothing else is close.

    • tackandcover - Jul 15, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      The best of a group of bad events is nothing to brag about. Just cancel the thing. With interleague play, nationwide broadcasts of all teams; the game is meaningless.

  17. bellweather22 - Jul 15, 2014 at 1:42 AM

    US vs. Japan? That hasn’t mattered since 1945. We won, btw.

    • Ayase Yano - Jul 15, 2014 at 2:41 AM

      Right…

  18. wogggs - Jul 15, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    “So, it’s really simple: Baseball can keep playing the All-Star Game as is, and fewer people will watch every year.” So, the question is, how many years before no one watches the game?

    • tackandcover - Jul 15, 2014 at 4:51 PM

      The people who live and die with baseball will watch. The people who can recite the starting lineup of ________ and the BA of each player will watch. There might be an uptick in viewing this year as it is Derek Jeter’s swan song.. There’s another reason not to watch. All the gushing over Jeter. Make no mistake; he is a great player, a wonderful ambassador for the game, and a guaranteed first ballot HOFer. But he gets paid millions to play a game. Its not as though he discovered a cure for cancer or brought peace to the middle east.

  19. mrznyc - Jul 16, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Here’s an excellent suggestion – Get rid of interleague play.

    • jollyjoker2 - Jul 26, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      agreed. I am in Mn….Interleague play is why I stopped watching baseball. I would rather play the east like Boston, NY etc. to know your the best in the League…..It was fun…now its Padres, Pittsburgh,astros,…teams I don’t know or care about. Also, you play your division about a zillion times a year. can’t handle it- its like watching paint dry.

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