As the picture of Pete Rose and Ray Fosse may have tipped you off, this is not a preview column. Instead, this is a "state of the game" sort of thing. Baseball loves to tell you that it has the best, most competitive All Star game in big time sports, and that is true. Many love to point out that the game used to be even more competitive than it is now. And the example that used ten times out ten is Rose bowling over Fosse. And it is usually then pointed out that Fosse was never the same player after that injury.
While I do yearn for those days, I don't know if that is the best example. Pete Rose is, by all accounts, a jerk. And an over-competitive one at that. But, the game has lost some luster. Is it really sick, though?
Many love to point out that the ratings for the game have fallen for several years in a row. Last year's game in Phoenix was an all-time low, and this year's game in Kansas City is feared to go even lower. How much do television ratings really mean these days, though? It has been well documented that today's entertainment options are more varied and fractured than they've ever been. It seems to me ratings are a horribly outmoded, outdated method for counting how powerful your product really is on TV. Even if the ratings aren't what they used to be, it's still one of the highest rated events in the summer. Advertisers still flock to the game. It still generates buzz. It's hard to call that sick in today's entertainment world.
What has been an issue is how the game is treated, mostly through overreaction to meaningless ratings. FOX didn't see the numbers they wanted after securing the rights to the game, so they pressured MLB to "make it matter" by having home field advantage decided by the game. Then the infamous tie happened in Milwaukee, and MLB agreed. This has been roundly criticized by basically everyone. It seems that the better fix would be to severely cut down on the All-Star rosters. There are seventy-four all stars listed on the MLB.com roster. That is way too many for one game. This has been driven by the MLBPA, which is far too powerful in most cases. But, the union wants to see as many players as possible get those bonuses and the like, so they are going to push for more players. This, though, trivializes being selected and makes the players more flippant about the game. Cut those rosters back to, say, 30 a side, and you might see a more meaningful game.
In related news, interleague play is an even bigger enemy here. As has been chronicled here, there is precious little difference between the leagues. Players see each other all the time, and it has become far less rare for players to switch leagues. Ever wonder how, say, Chipper Jones would do against American League pitching? That's right, you don't have to wonder, because you've seen it done. Ever wonder how Bo Jackson would have done in the National League? Yes, because it only happened once a year, so you wanted to tune in and see it. There's no longer any mystery there, and that's only going to get worse.
MLB defends interleague to the death, this year throwing out that they saw their highest attendance numbers ever during interleague play. The problem with that argument is that attendance at baseball games has been rising for a number of years, and the bump you saw during interleague doesn't seem to be too far out of line with the general rise in attendance. Instead of defending interleague play, baseball really ought to be playing up that their attendance keeps going up while the NFL keeps losing fans in the seats. Baseball doesn't make the same kind of TV game football does, but it clearly offers a far superior in-person product. Instead of using those numbers trying to convince its own fans that interleague is a good idea, it needs to be pushing against the NFL juggernaut that it provides a better entertainment experience.
I don't think expanded playoffs are a good idea for the all star game, either, but I also think expanded playoffs are just a horrible idea in general. Just like having too big of rosters, this just seems to be another way of making professional sports feel more like little league participation trophies. These are big boys. Make them truly earn their playoff and all star spots. They make enough money, the boderline guys that would be trimmed from the roster will find a way to make due without those bonuses.
I'm still super pumped for the game tonight. And, as I've mentioned more than once on this blog, I'm National League all the way.