Voting has begun for the lineups for baseball's All-Star Game. This is now a multi-part process with some players being selected by fans, others by players and yet others by the managers of the previous year's pennant winning teams. Each team will have 34 players on the roster for an All-Star Game. Although there are enough good players to fill the rosters for each league, a baseball game with 34 people on the team inevitably has the feel more of a softball game at a family picnic, than of big league baseball.
Expanding the size of the All-Star Game roster, using a designated hitter and tinkering with how the roster is selected are all ways Major League Baseball has tried to ensure that the All-Star Game remains interesting for fans. These innovations have not achieved that goal, but have probably undermined the game by making it feel less like a baseball game and therefore less competitive or exciting to watch.
These changes also have not addressed the major problem facing the All-Star Game-that it is a relic from another era and no longer meets the needs of fans or players. In an era of interleague play and widespread access to televised baseball in one form or another, the logic underlying an All-Star Game is not evident. Fans wishing to see how a great American League pitcher like Justin Verlander or Mariano Rivera fares against a National League star like Bryce Harper or Buster Posey no longer have to wait until the All-Star Game and hope for that matchup. Since the advent of interleague play, hose matchups may occur during the regular season when the Yankees play the Giants or the Tigers play the Nationals. The fans may have to wait a year or two for a specific matchup, but the regular season now has a great deal of interleague play.
Similarly, the All-Star Game no longer offers a special opportunity to fans in the host city to see the stars from the other league either, as interleague play has changed that as well. One of my most enduring memories from the hundreds of afternoons and freezing evenings I spent at Candlestick Park was watching Eddie Murray, George Brett, Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield taking batting practice before the 1984 All-Star Game. Back then, only Winfield, who had spent years in the National League, had ever played in that ballpark. While a fan at this year's All-Star Game might have a similar experience watching Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado and David Ortiz at Citi Field, the experience would be considerably less novel.
Another innovation which has taken some of the luster away from the All-Star Game is the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Although the WBC is not an annual event, it offers the exciting matchups, great lineups and famous players that the All-Star Game also has, but in the WBC the games matter, the teams play hard, rosters are not unmanageably big, and the games on the field look much more like the baseball to which fans are accustomed.
The All-Star Game has always been an exhibition game, but at times it has been played reasonably competitively. Many African-American and Latino stars from the National League in the 1960s, a period of NL dominance in All-Star Games, have said they played to win those games because they wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the more integrated NL. Fortunately, that kind of incentive no longer exists today.
Interestingly, since 2003 the winner of the All-Star Game has been given the home field advantage in the World Series. This is a good idea which creates a concrete incentive for most of the All Star players, and the manager. This measure may make the game itself more meaningful, but it does little to generate fan interest in the All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game is not going to go away and by linking it to enough gimmicks such as home run derby's, special elections for the last reserve on the team or expanding rosters to include one Little League player on each team, it will continue to generate enough interests and, presumably, revenue to continue for a while. It is nonetheless a missed opportunity. It is the only time during the season when there are no games for four days; and one of the few times during the entire year when there are no major sporting events for four days. Making the centerpiece of those four days a game with 34 players on a team, many of whom have played against each other already during the season is not a good use of that time.