“It’s right up there with eating lobster.”
— Gary Gaetti, on what it means to be named to the All-Star team.
As the refrain goes, it’s a long season. Players play every day, through illness, injury and fatigue. Save for the occasional off day here and there, the one time players truly get to rest and recover a bit is the All-Star break.
Unless said player is picked to go to the All-Star Game, that is.
Originally, the game was designed as an exhibition between the American and National leagues, the only time other than the World Series when the leagues would meet. Back in the days of the reserve clause, before extended player movement and interleague play, this was a legitimate attraction. The chance to see Steve Carlton staring down Carl Yastrzemski, or Whitey Ford looking in on Willie Mays, was legitimately rare. Add in the fact that players usually didn’t switch teams much, let alone leagues, and guys had actual pride about playing in the game.
But that was a long time ago, and the powers that be have legislated several changes into the game. The reserve clause died, free agency blossomed, players change teams, teams change leagues, and interleague play was incorporated into the schedule. Whatever your opinion might be on those changes, it’s not hard to see how most of them have weakened the All-Star Game.
Naturally, ratings went down. Managers managed in an attempt to get every player in the game rather than managing to win the game. And, finally, both teams ran out of pitchers in 2002 in Milwaukee, resulting in an 11-inning, 7-7 tie.
So, Bud Selig overreacted, and now the game “counts.” The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, instead of arbitrarily flip-flopping home-field from year to year.
But, to the best of my knowledge, the players never asked for that to be a stipulation in the game. Players have been asked to go along with a number or ridiculous things throughout the years. I have a hard time holding “skipping a meaningless game” against them.
There’s a notion that the All-Star Game belongs to the fans, and the fans want to see those players. Well this is 2011, and I know of nearly no baseball fan who needs to see the All-Star Game to see a player they love. That’s what broadcast tv, cable, satellite, the internet and tickets to major league games are for. If someone wants to see what Prince Fielder did that day, they’re a few clicks of the mouse or the remote away from the video and complete statistical breakdown. Few fans I know are tethered to radios and newspapers exclusively anymore.
And, honestly, if the fans really cared about the game, they wouldn’t be voting for Derek Jeter to start. They would have voted for Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yunel Escobar, Alexei Ramirez or any number of shortstops having a better year. They don’t care about the game, they just want to hold bragging rights that a player from their favorite team won the popular vote.
So why should the players put on a fake smile and pretend that this is some amazing honor? Short of the contract bonus many get, it isn’t. This is a time for the player. If he wants to spend it with his family, give his ankles a break, go fly fishing or join the other representatives from his league at the game, it’s his prerogative.
If Alex Rodriguez needs to skip the All-Star Game to get ready for surgery, he should. If Jeter wants to give himself some rest (he did just come off the disabled list), he should be able to. If an inured Jon Lester wants to travel to the game and participate, good for him. In all three cases, it’s cool.
For those speaking as though some great sin has been perpetrated against the game of baseball, please. Save the outrage for something that matters.