COLUMN: The Fault in our All-Stars

<em>“The only absolute knowledge attainable by Man is that life is meaningless.”</em>

—Leo Tolstoy

Like many of you, when I turn on my television there is a “go to” channel that I instinctively turn on regardless of the time of day. During these summer months, that channel is the MLB Network.

As a baseball fan, the MLB Network provides me with a fix all day long. I do not like everything shown on that network; but most of its programming is brain candy for me. And they show many live games.

There is one week annually when the MLB Network gets on my nerves. Specifically, the week of the MLB All-Star Game. This week.

In short, the MLB All-Star Game is a boring waste of time that long ago lost its purpose.

For those in my age group—essentially, anyone that can remember having a rotary phone in their house—the All-Star Game was a pretty big deal in our youth. Before the novelty of Interleague play, most of the players from the American League and the National League never saw each other. No teams from the two leagues ever played each other outside of the World Series.

Even when free agency for players came to be in the 1970’s, it was still a rarity to see the best players and best teams come together one day a year in July to face off against each other. The two league were distinct. The game brought forth something not seen all year. The game did not count in the standings, but it was important.

That changed in the 1990’s. ESPN started broadcasting Major League Baseball four days a week. Then, DirecTV doubled down on its wildly successful NFL “package” with an agreement with MLB to show nearly every game. MLB now offers most games streamed over the Internet. You can watch any two teams play on just about any electronic device anywhere that you are able to get cellular service.

Every player. Every team. Every game. Anywhere you can get any electronic device to work. Why do we need an all-star game?

July 14th might be a monumental day for some. For most of us, it will be just be Tuesday.

And that brings me back to MLB Network. Leading up to the All-Star Game, I have to hear incessant, insincere banter about how this game is a big deal. Endless prattle that is trying to sell to me, and many like me, a meaningless game that is no longer looked upon as an event.

The All-Star game does not even have that many stars. In recent years, MLB has drank the “inclusive” Kool-Aid. Expanded rosters to ensure every team has a representative pretty much means the last 3 innings of the game features players that really do not have a national appeal. It would really suck if America did not get to see a Milwaukee Brewer play in the game!

And then there are the gimmicks.

Recently it was decided that the league that wins the All-Star Game would have “home field advantage” in the World Series. In 2014, the American League won the All-Star Game. Their representative in the World Series, the Kansas City Royals, went 2-2 at home. The Royals became the first team to lose game seven of the World Series since 1979. Nine straight home teams won the deciding game before last year.

Gimmick: fail.

Marketing 101: Use a gimmick to sell a product when a product can no longer sell itself. Maybe MLB can adopt a cute little red-headed girl. Or, move the game to Hawaii. Or jump a shark at Sea World.

To be fair, MLB is not the only major professional sports league with this problem. The other three major sports leagues also have all-star platforms that have long ago lost their luster.

The National Hockey League has tinkered with different formats. None work. And with the excitement found during the NHL Playoffs, the league needs to find a way to bump up its ratings during the regular season.

The National Basketball Association used to have a fantastic all-star game…in the 80’s. Today’s players can hardly be induced to play defense in games that count, no less this monstrosity of a showcase. The whole event has pretty much turned into a three day hip hop fashion show. Most players would rather be sitting courtside next to one of the trashy Kardashian-Jenner harem then be on the court having alley-oop passes flying over their heads.

And the Pro Bowl? Let me put it to this way. If I owned an NFL team, I would make every player under contract sign a waiver saying they would have the sniffles the week of that game so they can not play. The human knee did not evolve with American football as a reasonable activity to indulge in. The NFL itself has pretty much outlawed any moves in the Pro Bowl that could hurt anyone. It is a flag football game. Zzzzzzzzz.

Scrap all-star games. No one cares. The players only want to get the bonus money in their contract for making the game. The leagues hope some suckers out there will still buy apparel specifically designed for the game. And considering how many millions of dollars most of the best players receive to play sports, putting them in danger of injury in a game that is pointless is nonsensical.

But that is not going to happen. They are still going to play these all-star games that are a character study in obsolescence. So, allow me to make a suggestion that could add enough novelty to the concept that might save all-stars…at least for the short-term.

Have the defending champions of each league play an all-star team.

I understand that the defending champions may be having a bad year, but they are still the champs. In baseball, the Giants are underwhelming this year. Still, the allure of a real all-star team–only the best 25 players–taking on the best team is a curiosity that is better than the current game.

In hockey and basketball, teams transition from offense to defense at lightning speed. Can an all-star team take out the Chicago Blackhawks or the Golden State Warriors…two teams that are the epitome of team play? I would tune in to find out.

The Pro Bowl? Nothing can save that game. Put the damn thing out of its misery.

We are a jaded, cynical society. We have everything available to us. What entertained us decades ago is nothing more than an unnecessary tradition in today’s social networking-obsessed world. Shiny things do not last long in this era. The new car smell fades fast. And the MLB All-Star Game is a dinosaur that should be given a long-overdue, dignified death.

ADDENDUM: The 1996 Major League Baseball All-Star game was played at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. At the time, I was working two jobs at two Center City Philadelphia hotels. The week of the game was mayhem. I worked 18 hours a day for a whole week and felt like death by the day of the game.

The hotel I worked at the day of the game housed the mascots for all the teams. This in itself was hilarious because it was a European hostel style building…aka, a shoebox. Seeing all the men carrying these mammoth duffle bags in and out of phone booth sized elevators was painfully funny.

One such gentleman came up to me with a mammoth black bag and asked if there was a place he could store the bag while he retrieved his rental van. The restaurant area in the hotel was vacant—so I suggested he bring the van up the back alley and we could load the bag there. He thanked me and went on his way.

It was only after I drug this monstrous duffle bag into the kitchen and hoisted it on to a table that I saw the inscription on the side of the bag.

New York Mets.

As a lifelong Phillies fan, few things could raise my ire more than anything related to the Mets. At this point, I figured out what was in the bag. My curiosity was too strong. I ignored my professional integrity and unzipped the bag. And sure enough, there I was, eyeball to eyeball with the headpiece for Mr. Met!

Creepy might be the most overused word in the American lexicon. But Mr. Met is creepy! The reason why serial killer John Wayne Gacy dressed up in a clown outfit was because he could not get his hands on a Mr. Met costume.

I thought of stealing Mr. Met. I would walk out of the hotel with that gigantic headpiece and into immortality. I would have taken the head of the enemy to every South Philly corner bar and cemented my name into legend. In my old age, young children would point at me and ask their parents, “Is that him?”

Alas, I came to my senses. I zipped the bag closed, and when the guy showed up I helped him load the van; and bid au revoir to Mr. Met. I have no regrets about not stealing Mr. Met. Still, I must smile when I think about what could’ve been.

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