MLB's All-Star Game is above all others
OK, an all-star game, no matter what the sport or what the name, is an exhibition.
Baseball’s exhibition, however, has an edge on all others.
It has a historical perspective, dating back to 1933, when Arch Ward, a sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, pushed for the event at Comiskey Park to coincide with the celebration of Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition, as a means to help Americans deal with the Great Depression and to try to maintain and build interest in baseball.
It has been played every year since and has become a favorite among fans.
It will be intersting to see how fans respond to this summer's All-Star Game in light of the massive ratings hikes enjoyed by the 2010 NFL Pro Bowl (8.6 percent, highest in 11 years), NBA All-Star Game (5.2 percent, up nearly 33 percent), and NHL All-Star Game (1.2 percent, a 33 percent increase).
Over the years, baseball's All-Star Game has been the gem of the events, and based off 2010 ratings it maintained that position, even with the lowest ratings in history at 7.5 percent, still nearly double the NBA's 2010 ratings of 3.8 percent.
The 2010 NFL Pro Bowl checked in at with ratings of 7.1 percent, and the NHL All-Star Game drew ratings of .09 percent.
Here, then, are 10 reasons why baseball’s Midsummer Classic has not only endured, but also has grown as a fan favorite over the years:
Flawed as it may be, baseball has the strongest selection system for its All-Star rosters. The fans vote on the eight position players for the two lineups, plus the designated hitter for the American League.
The players themselves select the backup at each position plus five starting pitchers and three relievers.
After that, the All-Star managers, in consultation with the other managers in the league, fill out the five remaining spots for pitchers and the remaining position players, leaving one spot to be filled by a second fan vote. Five players who were overlooked by fans, their peers and the managers in deciding on the initial 33 spots on the 34-man rosters are put on a ballot and fans get to vote again to select the final member of each team.
There has been assimilation with the elimination of the American League and National League offices, a combining of the umpires into one group instead of one for each league and the adoption of interleague play.
The key is that interleague play has been limited — and the talk is it will be reduced even more. Teams play either 15 (9.2 percent of the schedule) or 18 (11.1 percent) of their 162 games against members of the other league.
And the media have created a focus on how team teams play in interleague competition, whereas in the NBA, NHL and NFL, the conferences or leagues or divisions, or whatever they are labeled, are so homogenized there is no distinction to the competition.
Rules are rules
The game is played with the basic rules as a regular-season or postseason game. Teams can turn double plays or triple plays. Teams can bunt. Teams can steal bases. Pitchers can knock hitters down and throw sliders or curveballs or split-fingered pitches or changeups. They don’t eliminate the blitz or the blue line to perk up offense. While baseball is about one-on-one confrontations, unlike other sports, one player cannot simply take control of the game with no regard to team play.
Cities get behind teams in bidding to host the event, knowing it brings recognition to the town, and also provides an economic boost to the host club because All-Star tickets get tied into season tickets, which consistently shoot up in the year of an All-Star Game.
For cities, it is a chance to gain international exposure and also receive a major boost to tourist revenues. The NFL can only wish an NFL city would feel a value to hosting the Pro Bowl.
Adjustments for betterment
The few rules that are bent for an All-Star Game are designed to create playing opportunities, not to try to juice up the game.
The DH has been adopted for the All-Star Game, regardless of whether it is in an NL or AL park, which is fine because it provides fans a chance to see more at-bats from sluggers.
Catchers can be reinserted into a game after they are removed as a hedge against injury. And this year, managers will be able to designate one position player who can re-enter the game, again an effort to allow managers to get as many players as possible in a game without having to worry about running out of players capable of playing a position.
Baseball’s All-Star Game comes in the middle of the season, as opposed to after the season ends. That means the players are in midseason form.
For the fans, the All-Star Game comes in the midst of a season where the fan is conditioned for his team to play virtually every night. So when the All-Star break comes, instead of a three-day drought, fans are inclined to tune in on a Tuesday night and watch the stars come out.
Something at stake
Commissioner Bud Selig has been challenged for tying the World Series home-field advantage to the league that wins the All-Star Game, but it’s not as if the previous approach had some strong basis.
It used to be the AL and NL alternated the home-field advantage with no regard to anything that happens on the field. Fans might feel a better argument can be made for the league that wins interleague play to get the edge or the team with the best regular-season record to be rewarded.
What cannot be denied, however, is the All-Star managers and players take a more serious approach since the postseason was tied to the All-Star Game, even if the AL won seven of eight games since the change was made in the aftermath of the 7-7, 11-inning tie at Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2002.
The best hitters and best pitchers go head-to-head, and there are memorable moments, like 1934, the second All-Star Game, when Carl Hubbell of the NL saw the first two batters he faced reach base and then responded with a record five consecutive strikeouts. And it wasn’t just any five consecutive strikeouts. He got Babe Ruth looking, and Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Fox swinging to end the first and then opened the second with strikeouts of Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.
Fifty-two years later, Fernando Valenzuela, also with the NL, matched the record with strikeouts of Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken Jr., Jesse Barfield, Lou Whitaker and Teddy Higuera.
30 for 30
Every team has at least one player. And every player has a chance to affect an All-Star Game.
In 1995, Jeff Conine made the team as the lone representative of the Florida Marlins. So what happened? Called on to pinch hit, he delivered the game-winning home run off Oakland reliever Steve Ontiveros in the NL’s 3-2 victory and was voted the game’s MVP. Big deal? Well, the NL won again in 1996 and didn't win again until last year.
What used to be a midweek game of All-Stars has become a multi-day celebration.
Having seen the success that All-Star Saturday enjoyed for the NBA, baseball added a Futures Game on the Sunday before the All-Star Game, featuring top prospects from each team in a World vs. USA format.
Then, Monday was turned into an admission-required gala that includes workouts for both teams capped off by the Home Run Derby, which has turned into a TV bonanza. In 2010, the Home Run Derby topped the ratings for the 18-49 age demographic, pulling in over 4 million average viewers for the program. In 2009, the Home Run Derby was the second-most-watched program in prime time on cable, the second-most-watched program overall, trailing only CBS’ Two and a Half Men.