Every year I could write about the absurdity that is the MLB All-Star game, and this one is no exception. I'll try to keep my thoughts concise and my ideas innovative, but this may degenerate into the same rehashed argument about how baseball fails to get the game right.
The first problem is a simple one: what is the all-star game? Is it an exhibition? Is it a meaningful game? Is it for the fans? Is it a reward for that season's performance? Should it just feature the best players? Each person has their own answer. My feeling is that it should be an exhibition game that rewards the players who are having the best seasons. Obviously other people would disagree, but I've built my suggestions around those ideas.
One thing that has really begun to bug me this year is the number of players selected for the game, and thus rewarded with all-star status. The roster originally calls for 34 players from each league, but once all the injured players and the pitchers who started on Sunday are replaced, the number of players designated as all-stars jumps considerably. This year, the American League has 42 all-stars and the National League has 39. Just what does it mean to be an all-star when the likes of Omar Infante, Ty Wigginton, and Fausto Carmona also get that honor?
So how can Bud Selig fix that? The first, and most obvious solution, is to eliminate the rule requiring one all-star from each team. I'm guessing the argument for the rule is that it generates fan interest because fans from every team have something to watch for. There are a few reasons this is a fallacy. For one, a team that needs that rule to get an all-star probably is not doing very well, and thus not enjoying much fan support in the first place. Similarly, any player who needs that rule to make it probably isn't drawing a lot of fan interest. And lastly, if a player selected from the team gets injured and can't play, there is no rule stipulating a new player from that team must be the replacement, meaning there's no guarantee each team actually has a participant.
My second idea is a more specific one that I nonetheless think is important: eliminate the voting for the DH starter. Even if you don't get rid of fan voting altogether (which I'm in favor of), get rid of DH starter in the AL. I think the move to using a DH regardless of where the all-star game is a good one, but the DH starter should simply be picked from the reserves. While David Ortiz is having a fine season, I think it's clear that he's not one of the top 9 position players in the league. Now, I know the starters are not the top 9 players in the league, due to the need to fill each position, but the DH spot can be filled by anybody. Therefore, the next best hitter already on the roster as a reserve (not overall player, just based on offense) should be started there. I guarantee that player is more deserving than David Ortiz.
Surely, sometimes the DH may be deserving of a start, with Ortiz from the mid-2000's as one example. He can just be included at his ostensible position for voting (or whatever method is used to pick starters), as Ortiz and other DH's were when the DH was not used in National League parks in the past. And if a DH is selected over, say, a first basemen, who then ends up being chosen to start at DH when he's clearly a better fielder? No one will complain because, as I'll suggest later, the game is nothing but a chance to watch the best players of the season on the field together.
The third way in which the talent of the all-star game players will be improved is through reducing the number of players on the roster. The NBA all-star game, which I think does it the best of any sport by far, only uses a normal 12-man roster to field each conference's team. Major League Baseball should do the same, limiting the roster to 25 players. It ensures only the best of the best will be there; just 9 starters, including the DH, plus 11-12 pitchers and 4-5 reserves. Yes, great players will be left out, but that's the way it should be--it should be very tough and thus an honor to make the team.
The second part of my plan is that the all-star game becomes purely an exhibition game. Again I look at the NBA all-star game. Nobody plays defense, nobody really tries hard to win until perhaps the 4th quarter, and its just pure entertainment. The team with the better regular season record gets home-field advantage in the World Series, or maybe whichever league has a better record in interleague play. Just alternate years for all I care. Just don't use the all-star game anymore. It makes no sense. It's such a mixed incentive when the manager is expected to get 34 players into the game but also to win it. Why take out a starter to put in Ty Wigginton when you're trying to win home-field advantage? Why put in Fausto Carmona when you have so many better options? And yet one or both will probably see the field tomorrow.
Along with this, baseball should allow re-entry for any player who gets injured. Right now, re-entry is permitted to replace an injured catcher and for one specified player in the event that a position player is injured and there are no position players left on the bench. With the small roster, re-entry would be necessary to make the manager comfortable bringing in his subs. It still should maintain the feel of a baseball game, though, so re-entry should not be permitted as the manager pleases, but just in case of an injury.
In addition, injury replacements should be named, but pitchers should not be replaced simply because they started on the Sunday before the game. With the 11 or 12 pitchers on the roster, it's unlikely more than 2 or 3 will have started then, meaning there will still be plenty of pitchers available for the all-star game, so, if necessary, they can change the rule to say that those pitchers are only allowed to pitch if the game goes to extra innings.
The main idea behind these changes is to eliminate the dilution of talent present at the all-star game and to return the game back to being an exhibition. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with some of my ideas, and others will hate all of them, but this is what the all-star game would ideally look like for me. I don't expect most, if any, of these changes to happen anytime soon, but I thought I'd put them out there anyways.
Tomorrow, before the game, I'll reveal my roster for the 2010 All-Star Game according to the stipulations I laid out in this post.