There comes a time when the All-Star Game simply makes your points for you. That time was last night in Anaheim, where what could have been a tense, dramatic, exciting ninth inning was reduced to just another July baseball game by, well, a distinct lack of All-Stars. This has been the problem for the All-Star Game for a long time now, as the best players in baseball play fewer innings, take fewer at-bats, do fewer heroic, memorable things. As the rosters have expanded, and the managerial approach to the game has changed, we've been given about half an All-Star Game, and half a "All-Best-Stats-Through-About-June-20" Game. Now, for some people, the two terms are equal, but the problem with that mindset was on display last night.
Cut to the ninth inning, a 3-1 ballgame, National League leading, trying to win for the first time since 1996. That was a very, very long time ago; VORP didn't exist.
Ortiz reached on a bloop single, and Girardi turned to
Finally, with Buck on first and two out,
Think about the NBA All-Star Game for a second. Yeah, they spend 42 minutes in a glorified layup line, running the :04 Seconds or Less offense, alley-ooping their way up and down the court all the way to the 120s. When the game is close, though, and we get down to the final minutes, the 10 best basketball players in the world get on the floor and bust their tails trying to win the game. I'm not saying the entire process is optimal, but the moments of highest tension are met with the greatest talent, and the combination produces riveting endings.
The MLB All-Star Game does the converse. The very best players, the brightest stars, are in the game at the beginning, and while we do get some entertaining matchups, there's a lack of game-level tension to drive intensity. Soon enough, as early as the fourth inning, the players the fans most want to see are exiting the game, usually in favor of the second-highest finisher in the player balloting. Over a couple of innings, we move from an All-Star Game to an All-First-Half Game, and just when you feel yourself caring about the outcome, you look up and you find a bunch of guys who bat sixth or lower for their own team taking the biggest ABs of the night.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the All-Star Game. The AL sent three guys to the plate as the tying run in the ninth, and those three players had combined for one All-Star appearance in 22 seasons prior to 2010. One bats ninth for his team, another sixth (seventh when everyone's healthy). Of the three, two were only there because better players were injured. Where the NBA All-Star Game gets good, the MLB All-Star Game just gets random.
For all the rules changes, from "This Time it Counts" to roster expansion to in-game manipulation, MLB still isn't addressing the biggest reason its All-Star Game falls flat. And until the starters go deeper into the game, until we see