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Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Fix the MLB All-Star Game

I may be coming in a little late on this topic, now that it has passed for another year, but I did have some thoughts about the Major League All Star Game, which is rapidly hurtling towards an NFL Pro Bowl Game-type reputation. The All Star Game used to be an event, but has become a drawn-out exercise in desperate need of rejuvenation. Major League Baseball is notorious for reluctantly incorporating change and growth (see steroids and instant replay), but making the Mid-Summer Classic a classic again would give a nice boost to the supposed national pastime. The whole "This time it counts" strategy is and has always been a total bust. If you show me a baseball fan who claims to care that the All-Star Game league winner gets home field advantage in that year's World Series,  I'll show you a liar. It's long past due to change things up and give the All-Star Game a makeover. Here are a few ideas towards that end.

Let the kids play!: The biggest emphasis in this year's game was on it's two youngest participants, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. MLB smartly, and if not so subtly, decided marketing it's up and coming stars was in the best interest of their business. Going forward, how about taking that philosophy to a whole new level? Instead of a minor league Futures Game and an MLB All Star Game, let the two squads play each other. The All Star Game used to be popular because it allowed fans to see players from the two leagues face each other for the only time other than the World Series. Now with extended interleague play, a major part of the All Star Game's allure has been removed. MLB would be better served with their star veterans facing the "coming attractions," and expose fans to the present and the future. Not only would this be a great marketing strategy but it would undoubtedly increase the competitive intensity, as the rookies would be striving to beat the vets, and the vets would be trying to avoid being embarrassed.

Expand and refine the Home Run Derby: With increased technology, television is able to immediately tell viewers exactly how far each home run in the Derby was hit and the apex of its trajectory. What it can't do is reduce the increasing blandness of the competition. The highlight of this year's Derby was Robinson Cano getting booed by the Kansas City crowd because of a perceived slight to their hometown star, Billy Butler. That right there is all the proof you need that the concept of this competition has gotten stale. 

Currently, the Derby is composed of 8 players participating in 3 rounds (that seem to drag on forever). To get greater fan buy-in, what about expanding the number of participants, while cutting the rounds to one, with a winner-take-all philosophy?  More participants would market to a wider swathe of MLB to fans, while round reduction would keep the hitters fresher and hopefully more invested in participating.

Showcase those skills: NBA All-Star weekend is probably the most popular all-star endeavor of all the major sports. A prominent part of that is because of the various ways they display the unique skills of their players; with the dunk, three point shooting, and skills competition being their main showcases. MLB should adopt a similar format.  Clocking the fastest runners from first to home or having an outfield arm competition (how about even a sunflower seed spitting competition?) would be fresh ways to show off the finer parts of the game and give fans new ways to appreciate the abilities of the players. Competition is all about the measurables, and times and distances would bring that to the festivities in spades.

Fortunately, MLB has not reached the end of their creative rope, like the NFL, when it comes to showcasing the best of their players and game. However, it's always important to stay ahead of the curve and baseball's All-Star Game is ripe for change. It would be great to see MLB take a chance and do a major overhaul, but if their track record is any indication, any change will wind up being reactionary instead of innovative, which is a great shame with so much opportunity being there for the taking.


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