Time for Tedious All Star Game Debates Again

Baseball is a game of debates and arguments on and off the field. It starts when players are kids arguing about who gets to bat first or pitch, whether a runner in a pickup game is safe or out and whose favorite player is best. These debates are a constant in the life of any baseball fan. Arguments about who should be in the Hall of Fame, who deserves the MVP or Cy Young Award, and who is the best player at any position are almost annual rituals.

Some debates take on bigger meaning. For example, the question of whether or not Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame is largely a question of the role of advanced analytical metrics in evaluating players. The question of whether or not Babe Ruth called his home run in the 1932 World Series will probably never be resolved, but is still a fun discussion topic. The question of whether the 1927 Yankees, the 1976 Reds or the 1998 Yankees were the greatest team ever can lead to a heated debate forcing fans to compare players across eras.

At best these debates are fun, challenging and seemingly important. Hall of Fame and Award related discussions feel important because they have direct bearing on how the game and its history are remembered. One of the annual baseball debates that meets none of these criteria surrounds the All Star Game. These debates begin around this time of year and usually take the form of whether some genuinely underrated very good player, a famous and clearly great player having an off-year or a not well known player having a good first half should start the All Star Game, or make the team. This year Josh Donaldson, Derek Jeter and Seth Smith are good examples of each category.

All Star Game debates are not interesting because they are the same every year and because the outcome isn't particularly important, even for a myopic baseball fan. Virtually every All Star debate comes down to the question of whether the game is meant to honor the stars of the game or the players having a good first half. This argument is not only tedious but it is also relatively one-sided as the former is clearly the best answer.

Within this framework, there are some differences. Derek Jeter, for example, is currently leading the balloting for starting shortstop for the American League. Jeter is not a star having an off-year; he is an all time great in the last year of his career. Jeter is not close to being the best shortstop in the league, and may not be the best on his team, but most fans would like to see him in one last All Star Game. Similarly, the two best catchers in the National League are Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, but Jonathan Lucroy is clearly having the best year of any NL catcher. The question of who should start as the catcher for the NL or at shortstop for the AL this year is more or less the same debate baseball fans have every year.

Not only are these debates tedious, but they are meaningless. They have not real significance because the All Star Game has, for the most part, lost its raison d'etre. The amount of baseball that is easily available to fans and the advent of interleague play have taken much of the novelty out of the All Star Game. Moreover, the 34 man rosters have made the game unwieldy. Despite the inceptive to win, because the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, the game itself does not feel much like a normal baseball game.

Debates around who should start are additionally tedious because the All Star Game rarely generates highlights, game stories or memories that last more than a few weeks. Therefore, few fans even remember who started the All Star Game or even who won after a year or two. In this regard, All Star Game selections are not tied to the history of the game the way awards or the Hall of Fame are. The exception is that in evaluating careers some point to the number of All Star Games in which a particular player has appeared as a loose heuristic for how that player was perceived at the time he was playing.

All Star Game related debates are not particularly interesting or important, but they will likely continue to be part of the rhythm of the season, like late July trade rumors or late September wild card races. The All Star Game is also unlikely to change as it probably generates revenue for MLB and the host city, but has become a relic that due to new rules and technologies is more of a strange sideshow than anything directly elated to baseball.