Promotion, patriotism obscure the action in MLB All-Star Game telecast, writes FOXSports.com's Brian Lowry.
By Brian LowryFoxSports
Remember the old joke: “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out?” On Tuesday, it was more like: “I watched a promotional video for FOX and a patriotic pep rally rolled into one, and an All-Star Game finally broke out.”
Based on everything else going on in the sports world, Tuesday should have been a glittering night for Major League Baseball. With the NFL and NBA both in lockout mode, America’s pastime legitimately qualifies as the only major game in town.
Not that there aren’t distractions, like Roger Clemens’ trial for allegedly lying about steroid use, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership soap opera, or the tragic story of a fan dying at a Texas Rangers game.
On Tuesday, though, it almost seemed like MLB and FOX were stalling for time. Although the telecast officially began at 8 p.m. ET, the first pitch didn’t actually approach home plate for a mind-numbing 38 minutes.
What were we treated to before then? A Brad Pitt-narrated video opening, “celebrating this great game’s past and present” (followed by several in-game plugs for the actor’s upcoming baseball movie, “Moneyball”). Two more montages featuring the players. A silly preview for “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell’s new FOX program, “The X Factor.” A massive American flag, with the national anthem sung by former “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks. A moment of silence honoring Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other victims in the January shootings in Tucson. And the first of multiple promos for FOX’s upcoming dinosaur drama, “Terra Nova.”
By then, you began to wonder whether there was really going to be baseball or if this was part of some massive bait-and-switch routine.
Assuming anyone stayed awake through all of that, the 82nd All-Star Game — oh yeah, they finally played it — was a rather sleepy affair too. The game briefly surged to life in the fourth inning when Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder each homered, the first All-Star Game dingers in three years.
However, once the National League took a 4-1 lead, the American League never really threatened. Hey, it’s baseball. It happens.
Unfortunately, there were a handful of crass promotional detours, among them an awkward interview with Justin Timberlake to plug the upcoming comedy “Friends With Benefits.” “You’re calling a great game, Joe,” Timberlake told FOX’s straight-laced play-by-play guy, Joe Buck.
Indeed, FOX’s main announcing team, Buck and Tim McCarver, were customarily sober and professional, if a little boring. Buck referenced the mild pregame controversy about the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and others skipping the game, and raised the issue of whether managers have approached the All-Star Game differently since MLB put home-field advantage in the World Series on the line.
The best moment came late in the game and had nothing to do with the outcome: A FOX camera operator chased reliever Heath Bell as he ran (as best he could, anyway) from the bullpen onto the field and slid toward the mound.
McCarver is as good as it gets when it comes to discussing balls and strikes or previewing the second-half pennant race, but he exhibited little interest in discussing any of the broader issues surrounding the game. Normally that’s fine, but in a game with scant excitement and a lot of lulls leaving time to talk, it felt a bit like ignoring the elephants in the bleachers.
Then again, that’s oddly appropriate, because at times the whole evening felt like a promotional circus. And let’s not forget that if the league wants to cultivate the younger generation — a priority for baseball, whose fans tend to be older — the protracted pregame festivities meant the finish didn’t come until almost 11:30 p.m. in the East, despite a relatively short game.
By that time, the National League had secured the World Series edge for the second consecutive year, and after weathering a night of shameless shilling, I was ready to put in another one of those Sprint-sponsored calls to the bullpen for a relief critic.