Dodger Stadium was the site of this week’s MLB All-Star Game. Photo by Woolennium, used via CC BY 2.0
As you’ve surely noticed, we’ve been away for a couple weeks. Well…
Now, I’ve been telling John that he’s late to the party on things for years, but this is a whole new bag of donuts. Come on; who gets COVID-19 in 2022? (Other than the President, I mean?)
Jokes aside, my best to him and his wife; sounds like he’s on the mend and doing well, so hopefully we’ll pod soon.
But in the meantime, I’ve got some grievances with Major League Baseball’s All-Star festivities, and since I’ve also got the keys to the site, you’re all gonna hear about it.
Baseball season is long. Borderline interminable. The Phillies have played 92 games and they’re barely on the back half of the season. The All-Star Break has long been a welcome respite for the players to get some time off and for the game’s best and brightest to put on a showcase for the fans.
Here’s the problem: it means nothing, and nobody cares.
Bud Selig tried to remedy the first thing after the 2002 game ended in a tie by giving home-field advantage in the World Series to the champion of the victorious league. That went over as well as the Durant-Irving-Harden era in Brooklyn, and was dropped for the 2017 season.
The latter is a problem that the NBA and NHL have effectively remedied, while the NFL as a whole – fans, players, the league – has leaned all the way in on the Pro Bowl being a nuisance.
So what about baseball? There are three things MLB can do to make the Midsummer Classic something that people care about…or at least care about a little more than they do.
Fix the Home Run Derby
What’s the most memorable part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend? It’s almost always the Slam Dunk or Three-Point Contest and never the game itself. The NHL’s Skills Competition is also a hit among the fans and, seemingly, the players. The good news for MLB is that baseball has its own version of those ancillary events in the Home Run Derby. I would say it’s arguably the highlight of the All-Star festivities, but I don’t think anyone would actually argue for anything else.
Unfortunately, it needs some work, and that was made apparent a few days ago. The big winner of Monday’s Derby was Julio Rodriguez. The big loser? Integrity.
A year after a home run after the buzzer gave feel-good story Trey Mancini a one-homer win over Matt Olson, a host of controversial moments tainted the result of this year’s Derby. And no, I’m not just saying that because Kyle Schwarber either threw his matchup against Albert Pujols or was on the receiving end of a colossal screwjob and there’s no in-between.
Internet sleuths with more time on their hands than they should want to admit have analyzed the footage like the baseball version of the Zapruder film and have alleged that Pujols received a pitch after the timer hit zero and that Schwarber had a home run go uncounted by the broadcast. In addition, eventual champion Juan Soto’s pitcher seemed to be offering up the next bomb before the previous 400-foot-plus missile had landed in another violation of the rules.
These incidents hit at the crux of the Home Run Derby’s issues, and they are all a direct result of one thing: the timed format. Previously, hitters could make 10 “outs” – anything other than a home run – before their turn was finished. Now, players get three minutes (reduced to two in the final) plus 30 bonus seconds and an additional 30 seconds if they reach a certain distance-related benchmark. Now, it’s not really a bonus if everyone gets it, but clearly nobody pointed that out to MLB.
Back in the day, you could wait to see where a ball landed before throwing the next pitch; there were no time considerations. However, since everything Major League Baseball does now is focused almost exclusively on shortening the length of games, the Derby is timed. Whereas before a hitter could take an unlimited number of pitches waiting for the right one, now every taken pitch is four or five seconds you’re not getting back.
Beyond that, the rules dictate that a pitch can’t be thrown until the previous one has landed, which is often open to interpretation. Does it truly have to land, or is clearing the wall enough of a threshold? And if it’s the former, why punish the guys who hit the kind of home runs that people want to see by costing them an extra second or two each time? The 30 (actual) bonus seconds barely make up for it, if they do at all.
The format also creates a nightmare for the television production, which is really the point of the whole enterprise, isn’t it? They’re forced to use a split screen so viewers can follow the ball but also not miss the next pitch. It’s tough enough to follow a ball on a full-sized screen, but on half a screen? Forget it. We can’t tell if it left the park, and apparently the ESPN graphics folks struggled as well.
And look; I get it. I do. I already called the season “interminable.” They don’t want this event lasting as long as a game (although the two and a half hours of Monday’s Derby was pretty close). The TV listings said it would run for two hours, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen; as noble as the attempt may have been, this thing was never ending before 10:00. But in the attempt to shorten the Derby by adding a clock, they ruined the best part: the competition itself. They threw out the baby with the programming window bath water.
So here’s what we do: go back to the old format, but reduce the outs from 10 to eight, or maybe even seven. They could also try seven three-pitch “innings,” which would require the use of a pitching machine to eliminate the variance between pitchers, but that’s a positive because ohmyGOD did you see how slow Schwarber’s pitcher was?
The bracket needs to go away as well. Corey Seager hit 24 home runs in the first round, the second-highest total among the eight hitters. Pete Alonso hit 23 in the second round, also second-most of the four hitters still alive. Neither of them advanced, because they happened to be matched up against the one guy who hit more. You know how much you complain about scoring the second-most points in your fantasy league but losing anyway? Imagine 1) that happening with a million dollars on the line, and 2) people actually cared.
Instead, go back to the way it used to be: eight guys hit in the first round, and the top four totals advance. Then, the top two scores from the second round meet in the finals. The second round would consist of five outs, and the final would allow for three.
(They should also eliminate the pre-Derby pageantry, with the lame bargain-basement WWE-style introductions and the pyro and everything, but we know that’s never happening.)
There you go, Mr. Manfred: your new Home Run Derby is actually just your old one, but shorter. I know how much you like that.
Stop It with the Uniforms
The best part about the All-Star Game was always seeing the players from the different teams wearing their uniforms out on the field together. So naturally, in an attempt to increase the amount of merchandise they can sell, MLB started creating National and American League jerseys for the players to wear during the Derby and other Monday afternoon activities. And it was fine; the colors and general feel tended to reflect the host city, and it still preserved the look of the game itself.
But now, it’s flipped. The last two All-Star Games have been marred by the atrocious laundry handed out by the powers that be. This year’s uniforms were either a plain white (for the National League) or charcoal (for the American) version of each player’s regular jersey, with the team logo, name, and numbers in gold. The white jerseys were unreadable, and the charcoal ones were ugly. The game looked like it was being broadcast in black and white!
So stop it with the uniforms. If you want to make the “American” and “National” ones for Monday’s activities, that’s fine, but please restore the sartorial sanctity of the All-Star Game.
Completely Overhaul the Game Itself
Yeah, I know. How can you talk about “sanctity” and then with your next breath use the words “completely overhaul” and expect anyone to take you seriously? I’m not saying I necessarily want this to happen, but if MLB wants to spice things up, here’s how you do it.
The NHL changed its format a number of years ago, turning it into a contest between the four divisions that consists of three short, three-on-three matchups. I don’t think you can change the actual foundation of the game of baseball and still have it work, but there’s another league that altered the DNA of its mid-season showpiece with great success.
Every year, once the pool of NBA All-Stars is selected, the top two vote-getters serve as captains and draft their teams for the game. That’s cool! People like it! Baseball can do the same thing, but I have a twist in mind.
There was a bit of handwringing over Pujols being on the All-Star team and in the Home Run Derby in the first place. He’s not having an All-Star caliber season, but he was selected for the NL team – and Miguel Cabrera was added to the AL squad – as a legacy selection, which the Commissioner is now allowed to do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and anyone who complains needs to find something else to do, John.
But I have an even better way to do it: have those legacy players draft teams instead, NBA-style. And then, on top of that, make them manage the teams as well.
The “American vs. National” element of the All-Star Game is pretty fundamental; you could argue it’s the most basic part of the whole endeavor. But with player movement what it is, interleague play becoming commonplace over the last quarter century, and the fact there is at least one interleague series going on just about every single day of the season, forgive me for thinking that the pride one takes in their league might be minimized a bit nowadays.
Enter the draft! Instead of representing your team’s league, you’re representing Team Pujols, or you’ve been drafted to Team Cabrera. This serves as a way to honor the legends of the game while adding some verve to the proceedings that might otherwise not have been there. Pitchers trying to strike out their teammates, who are conversely trying to hit the ball 500 feet just so they can talk about it in the clubhouse for the next two months. Miguel Cabrera coming out to the mound to take Clayton Kershaw out of the game. Albert Pujols trying to sneak himself in to pinch hit, since we know that he doesn’t mind cheating during All-Star week. That’s fun!
Of course, you won’t have retiring legends like Pujols or “I didn’t even realize he was still in the league” legends like Cabrera to choose from each season, so maybe you turn to players who have just recently retired in the previous year or two. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley managing against one another in the All-Star Game, with Jimmy Rollins parked directly behind home plate providing commentary for the broadcast within earshot of them both? That would have been great to see a few years ago. Line it up for 2026, Rob.
So there you go: three easy fixes for Major League Baseball to implement that would improve the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, free of charge, and in no way prompted by a Phillie getting boned in the Derby. Nope. Not. At. All.