Sometimes things just work out for you. My guess is that whenever football was being invented, the founding fathers didn’t decide that a rectangular field would work really well on a widescreen television. They just picked that shape because it worked pretty well for the game itself. I’m also assuming that they didn’t decide on a sixteen game schedule because it would make it a lot easier for fantasy football players to keep track of their teams and make moves. But, it worked out that way for the NFL, giving them a huge advantage in attracting viewers. Even ones who don’t really like football. I’m also assuming the NBA didn’t have its players wear sneakers because they would be more marketable to a fan base that wears sneakers every day to school. They didn’t stop their players from wearing any sort of headgear because it would make them more recognizable in marketing. It just worked out that way.
Similarly, I’m guessing that the creators of major league baseball didn’t set up their rules so that it would make for a really compelling all-star game.
It just worked out that way.
And it’s true. Major League Baseball has the best all-star game, because it can. It doesn’t have to change its rules, or even its intentions. Nobody expects NFL players to deliver jarring hits at the Pro Bowl. Why risk an injury in an exhibition? So the game loses its feel. Holes are suddenly wide open. Players are free to make catches they’d never attempt in the regular season. The game isn’t a game anymore. It’s a practice. The same goes for hockey without checking. Even the NBA has to tone down its game during an exhibition match.
But, not baseball. Everything can stay almost exactly how it always is. The pitchers can throw every pitch exactly how they always do. The hitters can hit as well as they always do. The fielders still make almost all the plays. Every once in a while a player might not dive for a ball in the outfield. But, they’ll still make fine running catches or rob a home run.
That means baseball can actually be what every other sport wants their all-star game to be. The best players seeing what they can do against the best players. How will Sammy Sosa fare when he has to face Pedro Martinez? Or Manny Ramirez against Roger Clemens. Nothing is watered down. When Pedro struck out five guys, it wasn’t because they weren’t really trying. It was because he was so dominant, the best players in the game were helpless. When Ramirez took Clemens deep, it wasn’t because Clemens was just throwing mid-range fastballs. It was because Manny could hit the best pitcher’s best pitches. It was a true event.
Which is why it bugs me when MLB doesn’t take advantage of that. Instead of doing what they can do best, they seem to follow what other teams have to do. Interviews from the dugout during the game. Making sure every player gets a chance to play. Making sure every team is represented. Letting fans vote.
Other leagues have to put on a show. Nobody actually wants to see the Pro Bowl action, so they have to throw in some fluff. The game doesn’t show you how Richard Sherman would fare against Tom Brady. So, they need to do an interview off the field to talk about it instead. Since the NBA game doesn’t play an defense, the players have to do goofy backboard passes. Sure they’re fun, but there’s a reason the NBA gets better ratings than the Globetrotters.
So I hope that MLB stops following the wrong leads. I hope it doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking it needs to trick people into watching. This isn’t Rock and Jock softball. This is a game with actual skill players. If they keep assuming that the game itself isn’t very interesting, people are going to start believing them.
So stop assuming that the only reason someone from Tampa Bay will watch the game is so that a Rays player can get one at-bat or throw one inning in the eighth. Stop assuming that people will only tune in to see a player with a huge twitter following. How about assuming that people will tune in because seeing Xander Bogaerts bat three or four times against the best the NL has to offer is interesting. Because they want to see what Big Papi can do. Can Jackie Bradley Jr throw out Paul Goldschmidt trying to stretch a single into a double?
I’m sure they’d rather see that than see Justin Verlander be interviewed on his favorite past teammates.
Especially if Major League Baseball stops telling them otherwise.