If you're not super jazzed about tonight's MLB All-Star Game, you're not alone.
It's become clear that a great many fans and players don't particularly care about baseball's annual All-Star Game, an excruciatingly dull affair that deprives the sport's die-hards of their precious baseball oxygen for four seemingly endless July days for no apparent purpose. The Midsummer Classic has become the Midsummer Hassle.
Ace pitchers decline their invitations, either because they've pitched too recently, or they don't want to use up their bullets in a game that doesn't count. Prominent sluggers — like J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez, and Giancarlo Stanton — sit out the Home Run Derby for fear of mucking up their swings and going into a second-half tailspin like the one that afflicted Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge last summer. That means this year's derby was populated by such luminaries as Dodgers newbie Max Muncy and Phillies' outfielder Rhys Hoskins (who is tied for 28th in the game in long balls). The TV ratings for the game itself have been in terminal decline for years, and nothing baseball does has been able to arrest that fall. Viewership last year was a quarter what it was in 1977, and just half of its 1998 mark.
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The reasons are not a mystery. Before it was possible to watch every single inning of every single game on your computer or phone, seeing players from teams outside your league was a treat. In 1977, you could only watch your hometown team on most nights, and then occasionally some other teams on Mondays and Saturdays with nationally televised games on network TV. That was also the first year that TBS began broadcasting Atlanta Braves games through cable providers nationally. Back then, the All-Star Game was really your only chance to get a look at stars from the other league. And then when baseball inaugurated interleague play in 1997, the sport sucked the last bit of novelty out of, for example, a Philadelphian getting to watch players from the Seattle Mariners.
Other changes have also diminished baseball's signature talent showcase. Today, instead of watching the game's finest pitchers throw for three innings, as once was customary, managers are obliged to get the aces out as quickly as possible, often even the starter after just an inning. As leaders of the sport have come to understand the incredible value of top pitchers, teams are no longer willing to let a rival's manager risk injury to prized assets by throwing too long in a meaningless contest. That means the game itself is a constant, bewildering parade of substitutions in which few players get more than two at-bats. The whole endless mess has the feel of a Little League game gone awry. Worse, every team is required to have a player in the game, such as last year's selection of Atlanta outfielder Ender Inciarte, who put up a 102 OPS+ for the season (meaning he was about 2 percent better than the average player at his position).
In 2003, baseball even tried to raise the stakes of the All-Star Game by having the winning league gain home-field advantage for the World Series. The ratings continued to plummet, and the quality of the game itself didn't improve. And it resulted in silliness like the 96-win Texas Rangers opening on the road against the 90-win Cardinals in 2011, or the 103-win Cubs juggernaut beginning the 2016 World Series at 94-win Cleveland. Baseball eliminated the home-field competition after that latter season. No one misses it.
Sometimes, when you've thrown everything at the wall and nothing sticks, it's time to quit, spackle the holes you've created with your stubbornness, and move on. For the good of the sport, baseball should move the All-Star Game out of its midsummer slot, perhaps to the end of spring training the next season, and just accept that it will be a minor affair, like the NFL's Pro Bowl, which comes in the dead week before the Super Bowl.
July is the only month when baseball has a monopoly on the attention of American sports fans. The NBA and NHL playoffs linger into June, and the NFL is back in full swing by the tail end of August. And yet baseball, which is in terrifying decline among young people, fritters away this precious opportunity for sporting dominance by wasting nearly a whole week on a game that doesn't even count and that fewer and fewer fans are invested in. Instead of yearning for the All-Star Game's resurrection, baseball should take a page from the NFL and give every team in the sport a week off sometime in July and August, in batches of four teams at a time.
The players would thank us. The sport's dirty secret is that many players rue an All-Star selection because it robs them of a precious block of time that they can spend with their families. Baseball features the most insane grind of any sport on Earth. In addition to the 162 regular season games, most teams play around 30 exhibition contests during spring training. The squads lucky enough to get to the World Series might tack on as many as 12 additional high-stakes tilts in October, meaning some players participate in over 200 games in a calendar year, in a nonstop travel whirlwind around the country. It's exhausting.
Some weeks, teams play every night — sometimes more if there are rainouts to be rescheduled. That drudgery has become an issue for the players union, which wants more games off scattered throughout the season. While our heroes are remunerated handsomely for their trouble, with a minimum salary of $507,500 and a top 2018 salary of $34 million for Angels' outfielder Mike Trout, they are still human beings who deserve a day off every week to spend with their families. Baseball is such a cruel mistress that players are allowed only three days off to attend to the birth of a child. Three days! That's barely enough time to get their wives home from the hospital and situated in a bed.
Pushing the All-Star Game to spring training and using the time savings to give every player in the game a longer break would be a winner for everyone. Fans would get their sport back during the dog days of July, and would never have to spend a single night of the season searching desperately for a game to watch. Players would get a full week to rest and recuperate so that they don't show up for the playoffs looking like they just spent three days fighting their way off the beach after D-Day. And the All-Star Game could, finally, be put out of its misery.
Editor's note: This article originally slightly mischaracterized how long Max Muncy has been in the majors. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.
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