With the Home Run Derby over and the MLB All Star Game looming tomorrow night, the baseball season will take a pause as the game’s best take to South Beach. However, this game will lose some of its luster from previous years, and will look and feel a little different. The reason? For the first time since 2002, the game will not decide home field advantage in the World Series.
I will lead this off by saying that I am one of the few people I know (if not the only) that is pro-home field for the All Star Game. This is, for obvious reasons, a very unpopular opinion, and I completely understand those reasons. However, giving the All Star Game a prime, concrete position in the baseball calendar beyond its ceremonial position of the previous 70 years, is one move I am in full support of the former commissioner.
First, let’s start with the argument that the game is an exhibition and should be treated as such. That’s fair, I get it, every other sport uses the same argument. The concerns for injury are real. However, baseball is the one major American sport where the All Star Game can be played at full speed. It doesn’t have the inherent injury risk of hockey or football, and to some extent basketball. Yes, obviously injuries can still happen, but the inherent risk from gameplay is less. This scenario presents baseball with a unique opportunity with its game, in that the game can be treated as something more than a simple exhibition where 35 players per side all get a turn – it can truly be a game where the best players from each league can square off.
With that being said, probably the strongest argument against my stance (and the easiest to make) is that whoever the better team is by record should be rewarded. That is fair, and I agree with that view in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. If you win more games than anyone else, you should be rewarded. However, once you get to the interleague format of the World Series, this argument falls short. The way the MLB schedule is set up, each team plays each divisional opponent 19 times (66 total games) and the other 10 teams in their league 6-7 times (home and home series), leaving 20 interleague games. For comparison, in the NBA 30 of 82 games are played across conferences and in the NHL 30-32 interconference games are played, with each team playing each team in the other conference twice in both sports. Simply put, more games against the other conference or league makes record a truer barometer of superiority against the other league. While it makes perfect sense to have playoff series home field advantage in your own league based on record, as 7/8 of your games come against these teams, this method doesn’t truly compare which team or league deserved to host Game 7 of the World Series. While it may not be the best method, this is where I support the All Star Game being the determining factor, as it can gauge the two leagues against each other in the most objective manner.
Of course, I’m not so dense to argue that the All Star Game should determine home field advantage in its current format with no additional changes. In that vein, the rules should reflect a true baseball game in order to make this game as interesting as possible. Let’s not forget that baseball isn’t just two different conferences separated geographically playing the same game. These are two separate leagues with one major different rule, leading to succinct differences in how the game is played between the Junior and Senior Circuits. As such, the All Star Game should use the home stadium’s rules – DH in years at an AL park, no DH for NL parks. Since 2011, the DH has been used every year. With the gradual disappearance of the everyday DH, this shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it once was. Additionally, the pitcher is likely to be pinch hit for every time they bat, which gives the AL DH’s an inherent time to bat every time through the order. Or they can play the field, just like interleague play or the World Series. Thus, the Midsummer Classic should be embraced as a true match up between the two leagues to determine home field.
The biggest barrier to making this format optimal, in my opinion, is the roster selection process. I’m not going to get into the rules with pitchers being ineligible, as those are unlikely to change and frankly shouldn’t. I’m going to focus on roster selection, and as the roster selection process stands right now, the game should be treated as an exhibition – 100% fan voting for starters, one player per team, etc. My first revisions would be to incorporate player and manager voting into starters, similar to the current NBA system (50% fan vote, 25% players, 25% media), minus the media portion. While fans should have a say in who starts, the players and managers themselves should have a say as well, as it is their peers who ultimately play in the game. This would also help avoid situations where undeserving players get selected or teams get over-represented, blocking the best players from getting to crack the starting lineup.
Similarly, I would remove the one player per team rule. Granted, most teams do have one player that deserves an All Star nod most seasons. For example, Avi Garcia (CWS), Yonder Alonso (OAK), and Michael Conforto (NYM) are all deserving of a place in the game, despite being on bad teams. Yes, this rule does allow for fans of trash teams to have some investment in the game, as well as helps sell merchandise for these fan bases (thus why my closet has a 2010 ASG Matt Thornton shirsey that’s now collecting dust). However, removing it would help open up space for deserving players that otherwise get blocked, and would hopefully end the token middle relief guy from making the team. After all, if this game is determining home field, as I am proposing, each league should put it’s best players out there.
Overall, the All Star Game is one of the highlights of the summer for any baseball fan. I can remember as a younger kid always playing a game of wiffleball the day of the ASG every year, and then watching the game that night. It was always a special night, and seemed to always carry more weight with it than any other sport’s All Star Game. Yes, there are plenty of reasons to keep this game as a pure exhibition. What baseball has, however, is a unique chance to make this game truly unique in North American sports. Commissioner Manfred, Make the All Star Game Matter Again!