Originally Published: July 18, 2012 9:01 p.m.
The 2012 MLB All-Star Game has come and gone, but criticism of the game's unique twist lives on: The outcome determines which league receives home field advantage in the World Series.
Commissioner Bud Selig initiated the "make the game count" concept in response to the 2002 11-inning tie in his hometown of Milwaukee. The pained look on the Commish's face when the respective managers informed him - in front of millions of TV fans - they had run out of pitchers is etched in the memory of every baseball fan old enough to vote. Embarrassed - and determined not to let a similar situation occur in the future - Selig proposed the current format which was agreed to by the players' union. Although there are issues associated with the All-Star Game that warrant debate, this isn't one of them.
Prior to 2003, home field for the World Series was alternated between the leagues. That approach was supposed to be "fair" to both leagues, but in reality wasn't necessarily fair to the team with the best record. In other major league team sports, the team with the highest winning percentage earns home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Super Bowl is usually played at a neutral site, but in both the NBA and NHL the team with the best record gets home court/ice. Why should that be any different in MLB?
While baseball is played outdoors and the other two sports play their games indoors, that shouldn't matter. If a rainout occurs in baseball, there is unlikely to be a conflict with a team's ballpark for the next day, unlike the situation which occurred at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this year when the NBA's Lakers and Clippers and the NHL's Kings all made the playoffs. During one stretch, the arena juggled six contests over a four day period.
If critics want to find fault with the All-Star Game, they don't have far to look. Start with the fact that voting for the All-Star Game representatives is a farce. Fans vote for the starters, which is nothing more than a popularity contest. It's not about which players are having the best season, but which ones are fan favorites. Teams urge their fans to vote for their own players, and ballot stuffing is a time-honored tradition. The rest of the team, save the 33rd player, is selected by the players, coaches and managers. Those selections are rife with favoritism. And the last player on each team is selected via online voting. That makes sense how?
Players have also been known to fake an injury and blow off an All-Star appearance, preferring to spend the mid-season break at a posh resort. The ultimate absurdity is MLB's rule that every team must be represented in the game, even if there are more deserving players on other teams.
No selection format is perfect. Politics and favoritism will always be present, regardless of the selection process. But when the best players in each league aren't in uniform for the mid-summer classic, it creates a bigger credibility issue than Selig's "now it counts" mantra.
Much has been made of the fact that TV ratings for the All-Star Game have plummeted in recent years. But that isn't a function of the new gimmick. TV ratings were trending downward prior to the fiasco in Milwaukee. Among the reasons are the myriad opportunities fans have to watch teams in both leagues today and the fact that interleague play has taken the mystique out of separate leagues.
If critics of the All-Star Game want something to complain about, they need look no further than this year's game. Justin Verlander, the AL's starting pitcher, gave up five runs in the first inning, essentially rendering the game's outcome - and home field for the World Series - moot. He later admitted to trying to impress the fans with his velocity, consistently lighting up the radar gun at 100 mph, rather than concentrating on getting outs. Wonder if his manager, the old-school Jim Leland, might question his pitcher's approach if the Tigers make the World Series?
Selig's great experiment to infuse more meaning into the game and increase viewership may not have been successful, but give the commissioner an "A" for effort. While he may not have made the situation better, he certainly hasn't made it any worse.