Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay throws during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in June 2011. He will be the National League starter at Tuesday night's All-Star Game.
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay throws during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in June 2011. He will be the National League starter at Tuesday night's All-Star Game. Jeff Roberson/AP
I have never, ever understood All-Star Games, in baseball or anywhere else. Teams that aren't teams made up of players chosen in a popularity contest from which many of them withdraw, playing a game where there are no stakes except home-field advantage in the World Series, which most of the players won't benefit from anyway.
It's really getting pretty difficult to see the point.
This year, 16 players who were picked for baseball's All-Star Game withdrew — most of them for injuries. But some of the ones who say they're too hurt to play aren't even showing up. Columns about how pointless the game seems now abound, while excitement about it is hard to come by.
The basic arguments are well-known (and many are cataloged in the Atlantic piece linked directly above): Interleague play means that there's no need for the All-Star Game in order to see your favorite National League players take on your favorite American League players. The explosion of cable and online viewing means your television options aren't limited to your local team's games. Free agency and high salaries make players mobile, so that they don't necessarily identify with one league or the other. Fans are not good at picking the best players — they're biased in favor of players they've heard of and players who are on television a lot. They vote for Derek Jeter whether they know what kind of a year he's having or not. (And then he doesn't show, and that becomes another opportunity to make baseball into The Derek Jeter Right Or Wrong Show, which it is well past time to cancel.)
But I think my apathy about it goes a little deeper. I think I hate the All-Star Game because the last thing I need is more of a celebration of hot-dogging. At least the Home Run Derby is honest, in that it's not a game. It's just show-offs, showing off, and that's okay. It's like guys trying to win a bar bet.
This is ostensibly a baseball game, however, and in a baseball game, I like for a game to take place between two teams, and standing on the field all at the same time doesn't necessarily make a bunch of guys a baseball team. They'll rotate in and out all through the game, too — it's not an opportunity to see a comprehensive idea of a whole game, a whole team, or even a whole performance by an individual player.
If you want to see Roy Halladay pitch, why wouldn't you just ... watch Roy Halladay pitch a whole game? A whole game he actually cared about?
Perhaps it makes more sense in the NBA, where the defense can slack so that guys can make great shots. But baseball doesn't have dunks. It has big hits, but most of those big hits look like a lot of other big hits. A baseball game is an incremental story, told in perhaps 300 pitches. Most of the time, nothing particularly spectacular is happening, even when spectacular players are playing. Returning to Roy Halladay for a moment, if he's pitching really well, that's going to be evident because there won't be much to see on the field. A great Roy Halladay inning often looks like ... Roy Halladay throwing the ball a lot and not much else.
None of this — none of it — is a slight against baseball, which I love. But to love it, you have to sit back and love it a little bit at a time and wait for one or two big moments when you can love it a lot all at once. It's momentum-driven and every at-bat influences the next one, so it's enormously ill-suited for superstar exhibitions to begin with. That's why the Home Run Derby exists: to serve the needs of the impatient, who think only home runs are interesting. There's no Called Third Strike Derby, no Bloop Single Derby, and no Not Dropping A Fly Ball Derby. There's certainly no Sacrifice Bunt Derby and no Intentional Walk Derby.
I'm just not sure why it needs to happen, the whole thing. There are plenty of baseball games if you want to see one. Why settle for one that doesn't even count?