In the last few years, I have become less and less interested in All-Star Games. An exhibition for the fans is a great idea. But at this point, the sideshows and fan-fests that accompany the main events are much more interesting. Let's face it: the 3-Point Contest, Home Run Derby and Skills Competition are much better than the MLB, NBA and NHL All-Star Games.
In the old days, the baseball All-Star Game was quite competitive. The leagues didn't like each other and each side wanted to win. The first-time All-Stars in those days were told in no uncertain terms that a lot was riding on the game. That may explain why the NL had such a great run, losing only once from 1963 to 1982.
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In 1970, I was at the game in Cincinnati that featured the famous collision at home plate between Pete Rose and Ray Fosse. I turned to my Dad and said, "Pete must really hate him, huh?" My Dad smiled and said, "I don't think so. But the National League sure does hate the American League."
The rivalry reached such depths that NL president Warren Giles used to deliver a pregame pep speech to his team. But now, with free agency and interleague play, the lines are blurred. An All-Star opponent in July could be your teammate for the pennant drive in September. So why push it? Have fun. And that's fine. But it doesn't make for such a great baseball game.
Back in 1941, Ted Williams hit a game-winning, ninth-inning home run in the All-Star Game. According to Peter Gammons, he later called it the most memorable shot of his career. He knocked in Joe DiMaggio with the blast, so the two biggest stars of the day had no problem playing the whole game. It meant something.
Today's players only seem to care about the All-Star Game if they have a nice incentive clause. And don't think it isn't a factor. Pittsburgh's Brian Giles got $500,000 for making the team. Roger Clemens was angling to miss this year's game a full 10 days in advance of it. And this is the obvious AL starter we're talking about. He'll be there, of course, but we all know he'd just as soon be in Texas.
Maybe it started with Garry Templeton's famous remark: "If I ain't starting, I ain't departing." Funny line and all that, but it's really not the right attitude for a fan's exhibition game, the Midsummer Classic.
In recent years other things have tainted the game, though some problems are decades old. Some people are always annoyed by the manager's reserve pick. Joe Torre was particularly kind to his Yankees this year, and the Bobby Valentine-Cliff Floyd fiasco was an embarrassing soap opera. Then there is the ballot stuffing that probably goes on every year, with the focus on Seattle, Japan and Ichiro this year.
Today's players only seem to care about the All-Star Game if they have an incentive clause.
Who needs this?
I'm not sure what can be done. The Home Run Derby is the big draw, so maybe you make the game a glorified Home Run Derby. Leave the pitchers at home. And all the elected players just take a few hacks and the team with the most homers wins. Simple enough and not too taxing on anyone.
The only other alternative is a celebrity softball game or something. And I'd rather watch "Big Brother 2" than that.