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Gene Collier: It’s about time to get creative with the All-Star Game

Hide your face in shame? No way. Make the pitcher with the most home runs given up (in this case, Kansas City Royals pitcher Chris Young with 24) face off against home run derby participants. (Frank Gunn / Associated Press)
Hide your face in shame? No way. Make the pitcher with the most home runs given up (in this case, Kansas City Royals pitcher Chris Young with 24) face off against home run derby participants. (Frank Gunn / Associated Press)
Gene Collier,Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Since it’s already played in a manner that barely resembles a legitimate baseball game anyway, the All-Star Game is the perfect entertainment vehicle for the kind of experimentation the sport so desperately needs and so doggedly resists.

Commissioner Rob Manfred noted wryly just one example of the game’s seemingly incurable intractability: “Pace of play for me is like dandelions on your front lawn,” he said of the game’s ever-glacial rhythms, “I just can’t get rid of it.”

No one in baseball has ever been charged with an error for a clumsy metaphor (why would Manfred even care about my front lawn?). The error comes when the people who are supposed to be running the game surrender on this issue and so many others. So at the All-Star Game, little else but a grandiose charade, Major League Baseball should enforce an extreme version of the pace-of-play guidelines just to show what might be accomplished if the athletes and the umpires and the tradition-addled executives would budge by even a gnat’s eyelash.

In the All-Star Game, give the pitcher 5 seconds to throw the ball. Bases empty, bases full, no matter: You have 5 seconds between the time it’s in your glove and the time you let it go. A violation is called a ball; two are called a base on balls. If the batter steps out of the box, that’s called a strike. A second violation is called an out. And just sit back and watch what that delivers – probably a faster, better, more urgently entertaining game.

What, you’d risk hurting the pitcher? Oh that’s right; I forgot, no pitchers get hurt at the pace of one pitch every 20 or 30 seconds.

Also, three balls are a walk, two strikes and you’re out. What’s the harm, someone might get to bed before midnight?

It would be fair to think at this point that I have so little regard for the All-Star Game that I’m willing to turn it into some ridiculous game theory lab to resuscitate my interest – which is probably true – but I haven’t given up entirely on the event itself.

I still have plenty of suggestions for making the midbummer classic interesting again, for example:

Make the guy who allowed the most homers before the All-Star break pitch the entirety of the Home Run Derby. In the American League, Chris Young had the best (worst) qualifications, having watched 24 of his poorly chosen pitches leave the immediate premises. Nationals’ Max Scherzer top N.L. with 21.

Instead of having the game’s greatest bashers tee off against their old Uncle Burt, let’s at least put them up there against a major league pitcher. Additionally, enforce this rule: No batter with 100 strikeouts prior to the All-Star Game may participate in the All-Star Game. This means you Chris Davis (122), Mike Napoli (119), Trevor Story (114), Chris Carter (112), Justin Upton (112), Giancarlo Stanton (107), and Brett Lawrie (102). Wait, none of you made it anyway? Well, that’s my point.

Take a look at what the other major sports leagues are doing with an event they’ve long since recognized as nearly unwatchable, by which I mean change the format entirely. National League vs. American League lost most of its appeal with the advent of interleague play 20 years ago. When the game matched players who had rarely, if ever, seen each other, it was – what’s the word? – interesting. The NFL has figured this out, which is why the Pro Bowl is no longer AFC vs. NFC, but Team Irvin vs. Team Rice.

What did that accomplish? Nothing, it’s more unwatchable than ever and an existential threat to itself. But at least they tried to fix it. The NHL did something similar, by turning the All-Star Game into a 3-on-3 tournament, a series of three 20-minute games. Did it work? I’d had to have actually watched it to make that judgment, but the point is, again, at least they tried to fix it.

Another thing baseball could try is the staging of the first all-metrics All-Star Game, in which the players would be chosen strictly by a statistical formula agreed to by the mathematical geniuses throughout game’s analytics-slinging front offices.

You could field a team of the top OPS generators (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, for the hopelessly behind) at each position, or the top WAR players (wins above replacement, a number purportedly measuring the player’s relationship to the average bear) at each position, and better yet, those players would hit against a separate platoon of defensive players based on defensive WAR, or TDZ (total zone rating). I would prefer that All-Star status was based on the so-called power-speed number, which, according to baseballreference.com, is 2x(home runs x stolen bases)/(stolen bases+home runs), or, if you’d prefer, the harmonic mean of homers and stolen bases. Maybe you didn’t know there was such a harmonic mean, but did you know that Ty Cobb once played the harmonica? OK, that remains unsubstantiated.

For the moment, I’d only posit this: If there were a video of Cobb playing the harmonica, and it was on TV opposite the All-Star Game, I know where I’d be going.

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