The MLB All-Star Game: She Ain't What She Used To Be


The Major League Baseball All-Star Game (a.k.a. The Mid-Summer Classic) is still the most genuine and purest of the four major sports all-star games.  The NFL’s Pro-Bowl has never generated interest among the fans, and the players were so disinterested in the game that the NFL had to play it in Hawaii just to get players to show up.  The NHL All-Star Game keeps trying new formats, and the last time someone played defense in the NBA All-Star Game the players were wearing canvass high tops.

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Baseball’s All-Star Game is different.  It doesn’t need to rely on gimmicks or rule changes to make the game more appealing.  Pitchers are not restricted from throwing their best pitches to increase offense.  Defensive plays are frequently the biggest highlights of the game.  Remember Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a home run in 2002?  While the MLB All-Star Game is still the best of the four majors, the game today does not approach the luster and appeal it once held in the sports world.

This article is not meant to be a rant from an old-timer to tell the youngens how much better things were in his day.  They weren’t.  We live in a tremendous age of technology and instant information.  Times have changed, and with that change, everything must evolve.  The glamour of the All-Star Game is an unfortunate casualty to those changing times.

Today every game is televised.  People can watch games virtually anywhere on their phones.  Highlights of titanic home runs or exceptional defensive plays can be shown nation-wide seconds after they happen.  The great players hitting those home runs and making those great plays can be seen anywhere, any time, with just a click or two on your chosen electronic device.

Now, if you can, try to imagine a time before Inter-league play, before the internet, before ESPN and the 24-hour news cycle.  Imagine a time when there were only two games televised nation-wide per week.  Imagine not seeing highlights from games until several days after those games were played.  That is, if there was a camera in the stadium to record that highlight.

Back in that time, most Red Sox games were not even televised locally.  The MLB All-Star Game was perhaps your only opportunity to see the great players in the game.  If there was a great player on a not-so-great team in the National League, you may never have gotten the chance to see that player play live outside of the All-Star Game.  If your home team was not good, as the Red Sox frequently were not during that time, it was also a rare chance to see your favorite players on national television.

Red Sox trips to the World Series were few and far between in those days.  The All-Star Game was also your only opportunity to see Sox players compete against the best players from the National League.  If Mookie Betts faces Max Scherzer in Tuesday’s game, the moment is diminished because it happened three times during a regular season game just last week.

For baseball fans of that era, the All-Star Game ranked above even the World Series as a must-see event.  In those days, the game itself was the draw.  Baseball did not need a Home Run Derby to generate interest in the game.  The All-Star Game was once such a spectacle that it was played twice a year from 1959 to 1962.

For me, the All-Star Game is still something I look forward to watching.  It’s still cool to see all the players line up on the baselines in their differently colored team uniforms and be introduced to cheers or boos, depending on the city and the rivalry level with their team.  I still enjoy watching the greats of the game play against each other.  But knowing some of those players are likely going to be playing each other right after the break takes some of the bloom off the rose.  The game is still fun, but not as special as it once was.

Statistically Speaking

With the All-Star Break upon us, we have been inundated with stats about players having the most home runs or teams having their most wins at the All-Star Break.  These numbers need to be taken with a huge grain of salt.  The All-Star Break has come one full week later than usual this season.  In addition, the season started in the last week of March, three or four days earlier than the usual first week of April opening day.  Because of both of these factors, teams have already played nearly 60% of their schedule.  It’s no surprise numbers are up, because more games have been played.

And while we’re on the topic of statistics, could we please pump the brakes on all of the statistics with which we are repeatedly assaulted during the course of a game.  Some are relevant, like a left-handed batter’s batting average against a left-handed pitcher.  But most are meaningless and just there for the sake of filler in the broadcast.

The worst of these are the “This is the first time this has happened since….”.  Sometimes the “since” only goes back to last season.  Is that really noteworthy?

A prime example of this type of stat came after Betts’ grand slam against the Blue Jays last Thursday night.  Stat geeks were quick to point out that was the first time a Red Sox player had hit a grand slam on the 13th pitch of an at-bat.  Does that matter?  Did it make the moment that much greater to have that little nugget of knowledge?

Baseball has always been a sport that lends itself easily to statistics, and those stats are part of what links the generations that have played the game for over 150 years.  But just because we have the ability to quickly glean all of this information does not mean it must be done for everything beyond a routine play.  The constant barrage of statistics is taking away from the drama of the game and the personality of the players, something baseball desperately needs to improve upon.



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Boston Sports Syndicate: The MLB All-Star Game: She Ain't What She Used To Be
The MLB All-Star Game: She Ain't What She Used To Be
Boston Sports Syndicate
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