Thursday, July 12, 2012

All-Star Stupidity


The 2012 MLB All-Star Game has come and gone and as is the case every year, it was fraught with controversy. Some players were "snubbed" while others were added due to manager preferences rather than their performance. If you look at the Baseball Reference WAR numbers, Brett Lawrie is the best overall player in MLB and he wasn't even on the snubbed list. This sort of thing happens every year, so I'm not going to crunch numbers to see who should and shouldn't have made it; there are plenty of other writers who have done that.

Rather, I'm going to discuss just how stupid the midsummer classic has become since 2002, when the game finished in a tie. I'm sure you remember when neither team had pitchers left after 11 innings and Bud Selig was forced to declare a draw. In order to add avoid such an embarrassing outcome to the contest from 2003 onward, Selig decided to give the winning league home field advantage in the World Series. It baffled me when this rule was instituted, and it continues to baffle me today. The World Series is the ultimate goal of any franchise and to have a team finish with 96 wins play a deciding game on the road against a team with just 90 wins (as happened just last year with Texas and St. Louis) is grossly unfair. Prince Fielder, whose 3-run homer was the margin of victory in that 2011 game, should have been given a small share of the Cardinals' World Series money. (Interestingly, it was Ranger C.J. Wilson who gave up that dinger; little did he know the impact it would have on his team just three months later).

Having the game suddenly become meaningful is not the only way this once-proud event is a shadow of its former self. Rosters have become bloated with more and more players added every year, until a record 84 were involved in the 2011 game. This is nearly 1/4 of about 350 eligible players (those who qualify for batting or pitching titles or are regular relievers). Firstly, the requirement that one player per team be included needs to be eliminated as it rewards those whose merit is being surrounded by failures. In 2011, Gaby Sanchez was chosen as the Marlins representative. For the rest of his career, he can refer to himself, laughably, as an All-Star. Simply put, the term should not be handed out lightly; it should be earned on the player's own merits.

Of course, that immediately brings up the issue of fan voting. How can you guarantee the best roster if fans are responsible for the starting 8 or 9? The answer is that you cannot. Baseball fans are generally well-versed in the game and most vote for deserving players, but obviously they are never going to pick the best at every position. Still, I will say that having the fans choose you is due to your merits on some level, and thus fan voting should stay, at least for the starters. Having another fan vote for the last player is a way to maintain interest in the week up to the game and although it really becomes a popularity contest, those players made eligible by MLB are usually deserving.

But do we need this additional player? As I mentioned above, we already have inflated rosters, so let's can this bit of marketing genius. Simplify the selection process and let's keep it to the best of the best, perhaps an additional position player per league and no more than 11 pitchers, limiting each to an inning.

Yes, if the game is tied after 11 innings, let it finish there. Who really cares if the game doesn't declare a winner? It is far more important to have the championship decided by the regular season than an exhibition game, especially one featuring players who don't belong there. You may not agree with me now, but you might change your mind when it is your team that is shafted by this rule, just like the Texas Rangers were in 2011.

Best,

Sean

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