SAN FRANCISCO – Raise your hand if you made room on your busy schedule for the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Tell us if you cared who won. Better yet, tell us if you watched all nine innings.
If you’re like most baseball fans, the All-Star Game was long ago downgraded from a must-watch event to a vapid beauty pageant, so devoid of drama that Bud Selig had to inject it with a phony incentive.
Since 2002, the game’s outcome has been used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, which tells you how desperate the commissioner is to make the Midsummer Classic relevant again. But baseball is fighting a losing battle. It’s the surcharge for overexposing the game through interleague play.
Face it, there’s not much suspense watching the N.L.’s best players take on their A.L. counterparts when you could’ve seen many of these matchups two weeks ago. Interleague play has done wonders for the sport’s popularity but it’s come at the expense of old-school rivalries.
That’s what once made the All-Star Game so compelling. Not only were the players relative strangers to each other, they harbored a mutual dislike, too. When Pete Rose nuked Ray Fosse in a collision at the plate in the 1970 game, he wasn’t just trying to win the game. Rose was proving a point to the American League’s stars. The N.L. was a tougher league and would do whatever was needed to win.
To be fair, players do seem to be taking matters a little more seriously. But the culture of the game has been irreversibly changed – it’s baseball’s version of the Emmy’s, glitzy and social, a game in name only. The most radical solution would be banishing interleague play forever, which would strengthen the All-Star Game and give the World Series new meaning.
Obviously, Selig would never commit financial suicide; interleague play is here forever, even if it means forcing teams to play unequal schedules. But that doesn’t mean the commissioner is without options. Since the boundary between the leagues is forever blurred, why not change the teams: Make it a contest of the young versus the old.
Pit baseball’s best 20-somethings against the best 30- and 40-year-olds. Or collect an all-USA team to take on an all-World contingent. Or place this year’s statistical leaders against this generation’s stars.
But don’t bet on these changes, either. Make no mistake, this is a corporate event and its commercialism has reached nauseating levels. The game is overhyped, overproduced, too many graphics, too many players shuttling in and out for a real fan to sink his teeth into the action.
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