MLB All-Star game reaches key crossroads

Posted July 15, 2011, at 6:58 p.m.
Last modified July 15, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.

What is going to happen to this thing called the MLB All-Star Game?

Virtually every discussion in Phoenix before, during and after the game was about the players who weren’t there, the game that is just an exhibition and how could it possibly go on being the deciding factor for World Series home-field advantage.

Yes, there are players genuinely honored to be an All-Star. However, for most the only incentive to attend is a clause in their contract. Even that means little when the incentive is $50,000 and they’re earning $7 million.

All that used to make the All-Star games meaningful is gone. The money doesn’t matter, the leagues exist for standings purposes only, interleague play ended that “chance to play the other league” uniqueness, the regular-season schedule is longer and players want the break to rest.

The All-Star week and the game are celebrations of baseball: Lots of pageantry; an attempt to bring back the names of yesterday; lots of flag-waving and a home run derby.

Phoenix was the quietest week in all of those areas that the game may ever have experienced.

Yes, the stands are still full. There are those who make a week of the events every year as part of their vacation, but if as many stars as missed this game continue that trend, that number will drop, too.

There were few former greats on hand — they come for paid autograph sessions, not much else.

The game itself was fine. No one got hurt, there were some fine defensive plays, and the lead went back and forth making for a “nice” game. That’s not enough to justify the event.

Everyone there was trying to come up with a way to put the game back on the map. No one had the answer.

My broadcast partner for the international television coverage of the game, former pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, suggested all players elected by fans or selected by players and managers be required to show up, whether they could play or not. At least they would be there for introductions and maybe take part in Fan Fest.

He reasoned that if they had to come, some might decide they could just as well play a couple innings where they would have claimed an injury and stayed away otherwise.

The rule that All-Star pitcher selections who work the Sunday before the game are ineligible to pitch is nonsense. Pitchers are only asked to pitch an inning at most unless they want to go more.

Their arms are not going to be hurt throwing in an exhibition game for 12 pitches on what would be a day to throw on the side anyway.

The fact is, far too many players just don’t want to come. Only MLB can change this with suspensions for those selected who do not show, unless there is a viable reason to be excused.

Otherwise, the All-Star game is in jeopardy of fading to black.

The game is living on the glories of the past and the assumption the best will come to be seen and stand on one field together. The former is not enough and the latter isn’t happening.

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