Tampa Bay Sports Day

MLB Needs an All-Star Overhaul

Major League Baseball prepares to showcase the 81st version of its mid-summer classic from Anaheim, California on Tuesday night, and while there is still much that’s good with the MLB all-star game and its accompanying festivities, the current setup also leaves a lot of room for improvement. Thus, in the dream world of a writer armed with a voice and some strong opinions, who can temporarily anoint himself MLB Pretend Commissioner for a Day, I offer the following changes to MLB’s all-star break:

Scrap World Series Home Field Advantage

A result of quite possibly the absolute dumbest rule change in the history of sports, awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league in the all-star game was purely a reactionary rule change rather than something born out of necessity. We, of course, wouldn’t have to endure such a ridiculous thing if Commissioner Bud Selig wasn’t so clueless and unprepared at the end of the 2002 all-star game in Milwaukee, which ended in a 7-7 tie, after being halted by Selig in the bottom of the 11th inning.

I never quite understood all of the public outrage over that conclusion. Sure, a tie was unsatisfying, but it’s an EXHIBITION game! It’s SUPPOSED to just end when it ends, win, lose, OR DRAW. Manufacturing artificial meaning to the game was never even remotely a good idea. Whatever happened to player pride and professionalism and trying to win simply in the spirit of competition? Why do players need the incentive of home field advantage in the World Series to try to win an all-star game?

By the same twisted logic, why doesn’t MLB just award the World Series advantage to the league which had the better interleague mark in spring training, since you know, those are exhibition games, too?

Obviously, that too, would be a terrible idea. But, it would make as much sense as not simply awarding the World Series home field advantage to the World Series participant with the best regular season record. Unbalanced schedules or not, that’s the way it should be done.

Even if MLB had balanced schedules, there’s no guarantee that everything would be even anyway, due to injuries, trades, call-ups, playing at the same opponents when they’re hot or when they’re cold, and many other reasons. There are just too many factors and different variables to argue that giving the World Series home field advantage to the World Series team with the best record is not the best thing to do.

Awarding the home field advantage to the World Series participant based on that team’s own body of work over 162 games of REAL baseball makes MUCH more sense than basing that designation on a single exhibition game involving other players from that team’s league, in a game that could often be decided by players who may never even sniff the playoffs.

Plus, picture these three scenarios:

1) You thought there was outrage in 2002? Well, this season, we’ve already seen a bad call cost a pitcher a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning. Imagine the backlash if during a similar scenario at the end of a game, a bad call awarded the wrong league home field advantage.

2) Suppose a player hits a walk-off homer run in the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings to take a victory away from one league and give it to his own. And, let’s say that same player then gets traded to the opposite league and ends up making the World Series. That player would have just cost himself and his new team home field advantage in the World Series by doing something positive in the all-star game. There is absolutely no logic to that.

3) We’ve already seen the 2008 all-star game go scoreless for 6½ innings before it was decided in the bottom of the 15th. Although the rosters have since been expanded with extra pitchers and rule changes have been made for very limited re-entry with catchers and for other players only in the case of injury, it’s quite possible teams could still run out of pitchers if the all-star game goes long enough. Now, honestly, how much sense would it make if the New York Yankees, who are on pace to win 103 games, end up as the only team to post triple digit wins and DON’T have home field advantage if they make the World Series simply because current Yankee outfielder and first baseman Nick Swisher (who’s pitched in a blowout before) might be forced to pitch in a tie game, and he gives up a game-winning hit in the top of the 18th? You think there might be just a few complaints over that one, which might rival the 2002 tie? And, if it’s a 100+ win team facing an 82-win wild-card team in the World Series, there’s absolutely nothing that should happen in the MLB all-star game that should occur, which should award that wild-card team home field advantage in the World Series. If that did happen, why should there not be more outrage over that than an all-star game tie? You just have to wonder what people are thinking sometimes!

The bottom line is quite simply this. The NBA finals were so close this past season, that home court was probably the difference. If Game 7 were in Boston, chances are, the Celtics would have won the NBA title. As it was, it was the Lakers won it all hosting Game 7 in Los Angeles. And yet, the Celtics and Lakers played very different regular season schedules. But, it doesn’t matter, the NBA still does it right, giving home court to the teams with the best records, regardless of who won or lost the NBA all-star game. MLB needs to follow suit and realize that as an exhibition, the mid-summer classic should have nothing to do with the fall classic.

Player Selection Changes

I’m a little torn on the next two points I’m about to make. Here I am discussing the all-star game for the pure exhibition that it is, and yet, I’m about to argue for taking the fan vote out of the equation. On one hand, I remember how much fun it used to be going to the park and filling out the ballot, or seeing my own guys, my New York Mets, represented in the all-star game.

But, that’s wrong. The fans simply can’t be trusted any longer to get it right. They’ve made it a popularity contest and have rewarded too many players who don’t deserve to make the team (don’t feel so bad, baseball fans, the same thing happens annually with the NBA all-star game).

Ideally, the voting should be left to the experts who know the teams the most, and it should be done based on each league, in the fairest way possible. Select two radio broadcasters, two television broadcasters, a select number of beat reporters for each team in each league, and the manager of each team. Let them all vote only for the league which they cover or manage in, and allow them to collectively select the entire roster for that league, starters first, followed by all reserves. That way, there’s a greater chance that only the most deserving players would be voted in correctly as starters and reserves, and that only the undeserving players would get snubbed.

To keep the fans engaged with voting, let fans instead vote in players to compete in skills competitions (which I’ll get to in a moment), whether that group of players would consist of those who would make the all-star rosters, or if they might be additional players to compete in skills competitions.

Next, get rid of the current rule that a player from each team must be chosen. Sorry, but it’s not kindergarten, where everyone gets a gold star for something. It’s Major League Baseball. You’re either an all-star level player or you’re not. Take only the best in the players league, irrespective of their teams.

Other than Yankee fans, no one wants to see a dozen or more Yankees in the all-star game. But, if they happen to have that many players who deserve to be selected over players from awful bottom feeders like Baltimore, Cleveland, or Seattle, they should go to the all-star game and simply marginally good players on terrible teams should enjoy the three days away from baseball.

Another consideration is that player’s contracts, in the form of bonuses and incentives, are tied to all-star games, so it’s important to get the selections right and choose only the players who deserve being selected, the most. Taking the fan vote away and taking only the best players regardless of the teams they play for, would accomplish that.

Count The Home Run Derby Fairly

Sorry again, but when you hit by far the most home runs, you should be the home run champion. What a disgrace it was that Josh Hamilton was easily the star of the show two years ago, and finished second. It made as much sense as the all-star game deciding World Series home field advantage.

During the 2008 home run derby at Yankee Stadium, Hamilton hammered 28 first-round homers, TWENTY more than anyone else in that round. After two rounds, he reached the finals with a very sizable 32-17 total margin over Justin Morneau, who outhomered Hamilton 5-3 in the finals to (in my opinion) very wrongly and unfairly take home the home run derby crown despite being considerably outhomered 35-22 by Hamilton, overall.

And, here’s another change that makes sense… With 10 outs per player, per round, it drags on for hours. When players sometimes wait around too long, and can’t get into any kind of rhythm, what’s the point? A perfect example was this year’s home run derby on Monday night. Milwaukee’s Corey Hart led all contestants with 13 first-round homers, as the only player in double figures during the opening round, including each of his final five blasts all going at least 450 feet. But, he was eliminated with no homers in round two after sitting around for 91 minutes between first-round and second-round swings.

Cut it in half, to five outs per player, per round, and use the extra time to…

Add Other Skills Competitions

Just a few ideas… Fielding and throwing to first base or to second base, for third basemen, shortstops, and second basemen; testing first basemen’s ability to pick balls in the dirt or to turn a 3-6-3 double play; testing the best outfield arms, such as the longest outfield throws and the most accurate throws to second base, third base, or home plate; see who the fastest runners are going from home to first, home to second, home to third, or first to third; or perhaps, test catchers crouching behind home plate with their accuracy for throwing out potential base stealers at second or third base.

The best baseball players are recognized as five-tool players, yet we only see one on display -– home run power -– during the all-star break. Hold a five-tool competition with each of those tools tested, making up 20 percent of a total score.

I’m not sure what could be done for pitchers. We don’t want to see them throwing out their arms trying to top each other on the radar gun, but perhaps technology could be used to test who has the best command and who can most consistently paint the corners of the plate.

At any rate, if fans had a vote for these types of activities, they might even be more interested to see such competitions rather than the all-star game itself (which often falls well short of the pre-game hype by the fifth inning) .

MLB, Hear Me Out And Improve The All-Star Break And World Series!

Alright, now that I’ve said my peace, I’ll step down and let Bud return as acting commissioner. But, Mr. Selig, for the good of the game, please make the above changes –- I’ll settle for the first two –- and we’ll all enjoy a much better All-Star break and World Series each year.