YOSHONIS: Baseball’s All-Star Game just isn’t what it used to be

Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber (12) reacts after his turn at bat during the MLB Home Run Derby, at Nationals Park in Washington on Monday. The 89th MLB baseball All-Star Game was played Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber (12) reacts after his turn at bat during the MLB Home Run Derby, at Nationals Park in Washington on Monday. The 89th MLB baseball All-Star Game was played Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was a big deal.

But things like free agency, lifting of restrictions on inter-league trades and, of course, inter-league play have taken most of the luster off of what used to be called the “Midsummer Classic.”

While still the best 2-team All-Star Game among the North American pro sports leagues (more on that qualification in a bit), baseball fans have lost interest in it primarily because the players don’t really care who wins.

Back in the day, there was an actual rivalry between the American and National Leagues, primarily because the vast majority of players spent their entire careers in one or the other. Thanks to the Reserve Clause, many of them spent the bulk of their careers with the same club, often against their will.

So, there were National League players and American League players. Competitors being competitors, when it came time to get together in the middle of the season to play the other league, the players had enough pride in their league to want to win the game.

And aside from the World Series, the All-Star Game was the only chance fans had to see them play against each other.

If we wanted to see how, say, Roberto Clemente would do against Denny McLain or Stan Musial vs. Whitey Ford, the All-Star Game was the only place to find out.

That was a big deal, because there were National League players and American League players.

Now that players change teams and change leagues much more easily and often, and even play against each other in the regular season, that distinction is largely no more. One can hardly imagine anything like the time when Pete Rose barreled into catcher Ray Fosse in a close play at the plate in today’s All-Star Games.

Long before it was implemented, I had the idea when I was young to let the All-Star Game determine who had home-field advantage in the World Series.

Back then I thought it was a good idea since there was no inter-league play, and so more wins in one league did not necessarily mean more than a couple of fewer wins in the other. After all, the argument could be made that the winner of one league with more wins played a weaker schedule if that league was generally weaker.

But also back then, the idea was deemed unnecessary, since the players did not need any added motivation to win the All-Star Game.

Major League Baseball finally listened to me in 2002, recognizing that something needed to be done to motivate the players to care about winning the game, but by then it didn’t matter. Inter-league play killed the idea that comparing records against completely different opponents was potentially misleading, and the game no longer determines home field in the World Series.

So the MLB All-Star Game has fallen back among the other All-Star Games of the other American sports. While it still resembles a normal, competitive game in its sport much more than those of the NFL, NHL or NBA much of the competitive spirit is gone, and with it interest among fans.

The only such game left which the All-Stars care about winning is in Major League Soccer, which pits one team of its league’s stars against an invited big-name foreign club. Just as MLB used to, the MLS players want to win the game out of pride in its league. As a result, the game is actually contested, and has been well worth the time for fans both here and abroad.

I can’t think of a way that MLB could replicate this sort of renewed competitiveness. So it looks like what used to be truly a Midsummer Classic will be not much more than a glorified pickup game — albeit with really, really good players — for the foreseeable future.

The story of the game would have gone in this space, had it started at a decent hour. Oh yeah, they used to play it during the day.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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