As the promo count -- if not the excitement level -- builds for the 89th All-Star Game, do me a favor. Just off the top of your head and without googling, answer this All-Star question for me: Who was the All-Star MVP last year?
Too tough for you? How about this one: Where was the game played last year?
How about the MVP in 2016? Or from '15? Or '14?
Or an easy one you would think you could answer based just on who the previous year's World Series teams were: Who managed the American League team last summer?
I'm guessing that unless it was your guy from your team, you have no memory of how the 2017 All-Star Game played out. Viscerally repetitive as the Home Run Derbies might be, their storylines tend to stick better. If you don't immediately think of Aaron Judge, just reading the name might flash you back to his exhausting effort last year. You might not remember who beat Josh Hamilton in 2008, but you probably can visualize at least one of Hamilton's blasts bouncing like a tennis ball off the back wall of the bleachers in Old Yankee Stadium.
This is a problem.
All the All-Star Games in all the sports are suffering from player overexposure or lack of excitement or the lack of the kind of player energy level you get even in the preseason. But it's worse for baseball because baseball created the All-Star Game idea (in the primordial days of 1858) and introduced it to the big leagues (in the Addie Joss Benefit of 1911) and made it official in 1933. And it's also worse for baseball because its All-Star Game used to really mean something.
I'm not just talking about Pete Rose freight-training Ray Fosse in 1970, 24 hours after their families went to dinner together. Back then, we all thought that was over the top. But we did not think Rose's trying to score from second on a middling single with two out in the bottom of the 12th was over the top.
I mean, a year later, the starting pitcher for each league went three innings -- they were Vida Blue and Dock Ellis -- and each league used just three relievers, and this was in the legendary game at Detroit in which six Hall of Famers hit homers! In 1937, 15 of the 16 starting All-Star position players played the whole game. As late as 1966, 11 of the starters got at least three plate appearances, and the starting catchers worked 12 innings between them. In St. Louis. On a Tuesday afternoon. In July. In game-time temperatures of 105 degrees.
The game used to be played to win because baseball's dirty little secret is that before their individual identities were neutered by Bud Selig, the American and National Leagues didn't really like each other. "Major League Baseball" was less a monolith than the result of a 1903 peace treaty so fundamentally permeable the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox were ready to move to the National League during the offseason of 1919-20. It was 40 more years before trading players from one league to the other without full waivers was made legal. It wasn't until the '90s that the two league offices were even in the same building.
For the All-Star Game, the watershed came in 1981, when "The Midsummer Classic" in Cleveland was unapologetically played at an exhibition pace, because it was the first game back after the disastrous strike of that summer. Fifty-six guys got into that game, and afterward it became pretty much pitchers getting one inning and hitters maybe getting two ups.
But The Game was still charming because you saw intraleague rivals playing as teammates that you would never see anywhere else, and in those days before interleague play, you'd get pitcher-batter matchups you'd literally never see at any other time that actually counted. When Randy Johnson threw over the head of John Kruk during the 1993 game, they had no in-game history. We had no idea why Johnson was apparently trying to scare Kruk to death.
Ted Williams' homer off Warren Spahn in the 1956 game? Counting time in the service, they were on major league rosters for 46 seasons (22 of those while their franchises were in the same city). They never faced each other in a regular-season game nor the World Series. Carl Hubbell? Who struck out future Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, consecutively, in the 1934 game? Hubbell had never faced any of them before. And except for Gehrig, he would never face any of them again.
Even Rose versus Fosse came in the only All-Star Game in which they both played.
That's all gone. The novelty of the American League's best pitchers facing the National League's best hitters, and vice versa, is never coming back. If you missed it, I'm sorry. It was cooler than all interleague play combined (after the first year or two of interleague, anyway). Something else is never coming back: the chance to see people you virtually never saw, even on TV, from the "other" league. That was great, too -- but it was assuredly not cooler than being able to watch roughly 2,430 of the 2,430 games on your freaking phone.
Regardless, the do-or-die, win-it-for-the-league, we're-better-than-those-newcomers-in-the-AL/old-farts-in-the-NL intensity is gone forever. And the only-time-ever confrontations. And the pride of seeing your team's guy, Hall of Famer-to-be or just one-season wonder, alongside the immortals. And the thrill of just seeing DiMaggio in the same lineup as Williams, or of just seeing Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays as teammates.
So what do you do to bring life back to an All-Star Game designed for another time in the sport, in the country, in the history of technology?
You scrap the whole format!
Throw it away.
It was wonderful in its time. Unfortunately, its time came to an end no later than 1997.
And then what?
Well, just steal what the National Hockey League has done.
Pilfer it. Purloin it. Crib it. Rip. It. Off. Make no apologies, offer no explanations. Look at what the NHL did: It plays a tripleheader of All-Star Games. It creates four different squads, they meet in semifinals of one period each and then a one-period final with a winner-take-all bonus pool. An All-Star Game that has seemingly gone through every permutation except making one team not wear skates has suddenly become relevant and fun for the viewing audience and just lucrative enough for the players to make them give at least 75 percent and actually play offense and defense.
Well, steal that! Make the MLB All-Star Game a tripleheader, three innings each, featuring four different All-Star teams. The first game could pit two teams of maybe 13 batters and five pitchers per league -- the actual, official All-Stars voted on by the players. Then, the second game could be another 18-player team of fan favorites, voted on by the fans, whoever didn't make the "real" team. You want Ichiro and Bartolo Colon? You got 'em! They, in turn, could play another 18-man roster made up exclusively of the ever-popular, annually martyred "snubs": the inexhaustible supply of guys, every year, who don't initially make the All-Star squads.
In our Thank-You-Gary-Bettman format, the winner of the first three-inning game plays the winner of the second three-inning game in the final. This three-inning game ends the evening and decides the All-Star Championship. And the winning team splits -- what? A million? Two million? Heck, these are ballplayers. Start by offering them half a million -- they might take it.
But what if one of the semifinals or the final is tied after three innings? That's when you use this hair-brained, wild-card idea of starting an extra inning with a runner at second and nobody out. In those circumstances, it would be cool and fun, and it would amount to a kind of skills competition but with the added benefit of being a real-life one (well, real-life-ish). And you could put in rules so a team has to change pitchers at least once an inning, or if one team runs out of catchers or whatever, they can use somebody from another team -- heck, have an instant draft before the final in which viewers at home get to vote online to add one player from each of the losing semifinals teams to one of the teams in the final.
The 18 players on the winning team get $2 million. Or half a million. Or whatever. They can split it up any way they want. You want to give the DH less cash? Be my guest. And if you had 18 players per team, you'd have a total of 72 All-Stars -- there are only 66 now -- so there would be more All-Stars, so the union would be happy and the fans would be happy. And there would be less of this endless kvetching every year about guys who got snubbed, and they would have hard cash on the line for these guys, and if they didn't all play like Pete Rose, they would all play hard, and it would be, you know, kinda interesting.
And if invoking Rose makes you worry about injuries like the one to Fosse -- whose shoulder still hurts -- think about this. There's Fosse's injury in 1970, and Barry Larkin's tearing up his elbow in the long-since-eliminated skills competition in 1989. There's Harmon Killebrew's tearing a hamstring doing a split at first base in 1968, and Ted Williams' breaking his elbow trying to catch Ralph Kiner's fly in 1950. And that's about it, except for Dizzy Dean's taking Earl Averill's liner off his toe in 1937 and coming back before it was fully healed, which screwed up his delivery, so he developed a sore arm and lost everything he had. (Oh, that's right, he didn't. He went to the Hall of Fame anyway, and for 20 years was as famous as any other sports broadcaster in the country.) Guys really don't get hurt in the All-Star Game, and they won't start getting hurt just because they ramp it up a bit for our cash pool of $2 million. Or $500,000.
Look, we have to do something to make the All-Star Game more than that thing you kinda watch the night after the Home Run Derby. Because the answers to the All-Star questions I asked at the start of this piece were:
• Robinson Cano homered to win it for the AL in the 10th inning last year.
• The game was played in Miami, back in the pre-Stanton trade, pre-Jeter days.
• And no, Terry Francona did not manage the American League team last year even though Cleveland was the AL rep in the '16 Series. He was out getting a heart procedure, and his bench coach, Brad Mills, got to run the show nearly five years after he managed his last regular-season game.
And if you forgot that bizarre All-Star fact, the real, sad truth about your actual, organic interest in the All-Star Game is: Not only didn't you know all the All-Star answers, but without going back to the first paragraph, you neither remember nor really care what the All-Star questions were.
Keith Olbermann and Karl Ravech will be co-anchoring SportsCenter's coverage of the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, and the other midsummer festivities, Sunday through Tuesday.