In a little over a month from now, Houston will host this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park; it will be second big sporting event for Space City this year after hosting Super Bowl XXXVIII in February. As they have for so many years now, the league has encouraged fans to vote for the starting nine for both the American and National League squads; fans will also get the opportunity to vote for the last selection for each team for the third year in a row. Oh, and just so we’re all clear on this, as former Chicago mayor Richard Daley once proclaimed, vote early and vote often.
Earlier this week, they announced some of the leading vote getters for the American League and, surprise; the leading candidate to play shortstop has been on the disabled list for Boston since before the season began. In second place is another player who has struggled at the plate this season for New York. There are probably many more deserving players that should be named as a starter in their place, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?
The obvious truth is that the All-Star game is nothing more than an overblown, hyped-up spectacle that gives owners a chance to rake in some extra cash for the coffers. The game, for all intent and purposes, has become more and more meaningless as time passes. Players no longer even want to participate, and at least a few bow out for “personal reasons” so they can instead spend a few days off soaking up the sun on a beach somewhere or visiting family and friends. Even offering home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league is a joke.
It would not be surprising to me if television ratings were better for the Home Run Derby the night before than for the game itself. I had the opportunity to sit in the bleachers and watched Mark McGwire hit the light pole over Fenway’s Green Monster a few times in the 1999 home run exhibition. I’ve noticed on many occasions that ESPN likes to rebroadcast that event to fill some space on its Classic channel, but I have never once seen a repeat of that All-Star contest. People are obviously interested more in watching super-human forms smack a few dingers than see Randy Johnson pitch to Larry Walker.
All-Star games have suffered in every major league sport in America; that is no mystery. The NHL All-Star game throws checking and defense out the window less anyone gets hurt, the NBA All-Star game is anything but fantastic, and the NFL Pro Bowl gets lower ratings than local access. That’s because the contests are clearly void of any form that is representative of the game itself. Plus, the passion of the participants is noticeably missing; there is no care for whether or not your squad wins the match, but whether a bonus clause in your contract guarantees a little extra pay in your next check.
Perhaps the time has come to rethink the significance of these games and ask whether they are even worth the effort. Years ago, it might have meant more to read about Bob Feller facing Stan Musial or Ted Williams playing in the same outfield as Joe DiMaggio. Today, a wealth of media services gives people the chance to follow a player from any team on any given day swing for the fences or pitch a perfect game, so the mystique is just not there. Sorry, Major League Baseball, but I’m going to save my opportunity to vote for this November; the outcome of those contests means more to me and many other people than that of next month’s competition.