Friday, July 18, 2008

Bud Selig whiffs again

In 2003, Major League Baseball decided to make its annual mid-summer All-Star game "matter" by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner. Of all the "innovations" that MLB has come up with 1969, when it split the American and National Leagues into two divisions (good), this decision is easily the dumbest of the lot. As much as I dislike the designated hitter, which does something no other sport does (football excepted) by making a "specialist" out of an offensive player who is not required to do anything else other than run out a batted ball, awarding home field advantage to the winner of the All-Star game is stupid for multiple reasons. Let's just start with a handful:

1. The fans determine, by their vote, who starts at each position (pitchers excepted). Right off the bat, this means that each team will not field the statistically best players. This year's mysterious candidate: Jason Veritek.
2. Each team is required to have one representative named to the team. Again, better players will be passed over so that each team can claim, for marketing and television interests, a player in the game. Let's be honest: Did the Washington Nationals deserve to have an All-Star on the National League team this year, voted on or named by manager?
3. Pitchers are chosen by managers. No room for bias there, eh? And is there ever the slight possibility that pitchers are selected to start and relieve based on where the game is played?
4. The best players on each team will not play the whole game. That's a given. Each manager does the best he can to get as many players on the field as possible. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. To put pressure on a manager to "win" a game that is now played largely for the corporate interests supporting the game through advertisements and endorsements is simply ridiculous.
5. Managers understand that they are not supposed to jeopardize a player's health by playing him. For pitchers, the stakes are higher. If you are a starting pitcher named to the All-Star game and you throw 110 pitches within three days of the game, no manager in their right is going to send that pitcher to the mound to "win" the game. Thinking about it, I wonder if players have clauses in their contracts that limit how much they can play in any exhibition event during the regular season, the All-Star game included.

As I said, these are a handful of reasons to return the game to its pre-"it matters" status. There are more, but they aren't necessary to make my case.

Bud Selig's decision to attach a significance to the All-Star game came largely, in my view, because of his ill-considered decision the year before to stop the game after each team ran out of pitchers after the 11th inning, even though the score was tied, 7-7. Selig was booed by his hometown fans in Milwaukee, and vowed to correct his error by making the game "matter" the following year.

So how does it help the cause by continuing a game into the 15th inning, which the American League mercifully won, when, again, there were no more pitchers available. Had the game continued into the 16th inning, the home field advantage would have been decided by two position players who volunteered to pitch.

Dumb, dumb and dumber. My life-long opposition to the DH not withstanding, I am not opposed to change in the game. I like inter-league play. I like the new fan-friendly parks, although not the prices nor the taxpayer funds used to build them. But making the All-Star game "matter" is just stupid. Sometimes it's okay to play games or do whatever just because it's fun. Our society seems to have a hard enough time allowing kids to do things because they're fun. The adults who run professional sports ought to know better.

1 comment:

Rob Kimball said...

I disagree with you on both the DH and All-Star game "mattering". The DH is a debate for another day, but I think it's good that the All Star game determines home field in the World Series.

First and foremost, the statistical impact of home field advantage on a 7 game series is minute. The one game swing only makes a difference statistically if you go to Game 7, which has happened all of 4 times in the last 20 years (although it is true that the home team has prevailed all 4 times) Since home-field advantage in baseball is around 53%, you're talking about a 3% swing in 20% of world series.

Secondly, the All Star game is important for baseball. It's high viewership, an opportunity to put the game front and center and watch some great ball players. If it didn't count for anything, it could degenerate to the level of the NFL Pro Bowl, a meaningless exhibition largely ignored by fans and players alike.

This years game was a delight if you ask me. We got to watch SO many different pitchers take so many different approaches to gun down some of the hottest bats in the game. It was a case study in excellent pitching.

As a point of clarification, Jason Varitek was voted onto the roster by the players, not the fans. Even though his offensive production is less than stellar, he calls the best game in baseball from behind the plate, hands down. The players understand how good he is at managing pitchers and how much he does to win games. His value to the Red Sox or to the AL All-Stars goes much farther than his bat.