Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade -- No. 25: All-Star Game no longer counts
We’re a few short days away from the dawn of the 2020s. So, instead of counting down the Top 25 stories of the year, we’re taking a look at the top 25 baseball stories of the past decade.
Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most over the past ten years.
Now that our honorable mention is out of the way, let’s get to number 25: The All-Star Game no longer counting
Once upon a time the All-Star Game mattered to those who played it. At least a little bit. The American League and National League were wholly separate and, in the days before free agency, there was far less player movement. Way more guys would spend their entire careers in one league or the other then than now. There was more league pride at stake. The NL wanted to beat the AL for its own sake and vice-versa.
For the fans there was built-in interest as well. Due to the lack of interleague play and far, far fewer televised national games, fans of an NL or AL team were far, far less likely to see players from the the other league. If you lived in, say, Detroit in the 1960s, when were you ever going to be able to see Hank Aaron or Willie Mays? If you lived in Philly in the 1980s, what were the odds that you’d ever get to see Robin Yount or Rickey Henderson?
Between free agency and interleague play that dynamic began to break down in the 1990s and with cable packages and on-demand games on the Internet, it was all but gone by the turn of the century. By then the All-Star Game had transformed into a true exhibition whose participants often didn’t even want to be there or who treated it like a big party. At some point along the line, All-Star managers took to making getting everyone a chance to appear in the game their top priority, and the ever-expanding All-Star rosters would be all but cycled through by the time the ninth inning rolled around and lesser All-Stars would figure in the outcome far more often than the big, big stars voted into the game by fans. Really, no one cared.
That lack of caring led, inevitably, to an embarrassing situation: the 2002 All-Star Game that, infamously, resulted in a 7-7 tie, declared as such by Bud Selig, who was caught for posterity in all of his exasperated and embarrassed glory, arms up and shoulders shrugged when he realized there was nothing he could do.
In reaction to that, Major League Baseball tried to make the All-Star matter again, declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would be decided by the outcome of each year’s All-Star Game. “This year it counts!” the slogan went. That system was in place from 2003-2016. And both the slogan and the idea of the All-Star Game determining home field advantage was widely and rightfully mocked. Mostly because it was seen as an insult to fans and players that something as important as that was decided by something as unimportant as the All-Star Game.
Take 2008, for example, that year Braves second baseman Dan Uggla committed three errors in a sloppy, 15-inning National League loss to the American League. The Phillies managed to pull out the World Series that year, but imagine if they hadn’t, and Uggla was subjected to a career-defining bit of ignominy as a result. It just always seemed like an ill-advised system hatched to spare Bud Selig further embarrassment like he experienced back in 2002.
Thankfully, the idea was scrapped in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now the All-Star Game, again, decides nothing. And, beginning in 2017, the regular season -- the games that actually mattered -- determined home field in the World Series instead of a coin flip or some alternating-between-leagues thing or from something as dumb as the result of an exhibition about which everyone ceased to care a good 30 years ago or more.
So if the All-Star Game no longer matters and no longer counts, is there anything we can do to make it relevant at all? Maybe history can show us a way.
The first All-Star Game was not, actually, the 1933 game which launched the annual series we have today. It was in 1911. That was a benefit game for the family of the Cleveland Naps pitcher, Addie Joss, who retired in 1910 due to a bad elbow and then died unexpectedly in April 1911 due to tubercular meningitis. It was just an American league affair, with players from the eight junior circuit teams converging on Cleveland for the game. It raised the modern equivalent of about $350,000 to cover Joss’ medical bills and to help provide for his family. Pretty noble, eh?
The 1933-present version was conceived by a Chicago newspaper editor after the mayor approached the paper for ideas of a big sporting event to serve as an attraction for the 1933 World’s Fair, which was taking place in Chicago. A baseball game was the winning idea. In addition to the Fair promotion, the game was seen as a morale-booster for a Depression-scarred country and, like the Addie Joss game, had a philanthropic purpose, with proceeds from the game going to a charity for disabled and needy major league players, of which there were no small number back in those days.
The current All-Star Game is surrounded by a number of secondary philanthropic efforts -- community outreach and charity auctions and things -- but the game itself is just a big circled date on the Fox Network’s calendar and one of the larger line-items on Major League Baseball’s income statement attributable to those broadcast rights sold to Fox. Maybe if that changed and, instead, the game was given some off-the-field purpose it once had, the apathy over the game might go away?
Feel like we’ll never find out.