Thursday, July 7, 2016

All Star Game Sends Mixed Signals

Recently, Jayson Stark wrote a great piece over at ESPN. The crux of it was that the rule mandating every team have an All Star representative should be removed. While that may hit home here in Twins Territory due to the inclusion of Eduardo Nunez in the game, it's part of a bigger problem. Major League Baseball has the best All Star game running, and it's being used to send mixed signals.

Since 2003, the Mid-Summer Classic has meant something. Bud Selig said his game would count, and the All Star Game has determined home field advantage for the American and National League come time for the World Series. The game itself was no longer simply an exhibition, but there were now implications for teams a few months later that hinged on this game.

That's really where the mixed messages begin, but it's far from where they branch out to. In and of itself, baseball is unlike football and basketball. It's not a game you can play halfway. Sure, the managerial aspect in the All Star Game is nothing like that of something you'd see during the season, but you can't fake 90+ mph heat. You can't take a play off with exit velocities rocketing over 100 mph. There's really no such thing as an alley oop dunk fest, or lineman standing up and playing patty cake in baseball, it just doesn't exist. From that reality alone, the product on the field during the Mid-Summer Classic was always going to be better.

When it comes to who plays in the game, the mixed messages are a bit more in depth however. Sure, fan voting has always produced some goofy outcomes (sorry Royals fans), but it provides a level of ownership to those that spend hours casting ballots. You're never going to remove fan balloting, and that may provide a disadvantage for one side or another during a game that counts. Instead though, it's baseball's outdated filling out of the rosters that suggests the game is losing touch with itself.

Has Eduardo Nunez had a great season for the struggling Twins? Absolutely he has, but he's nowhere near the caliber of a player you'd hope to be filling out an All Star team. It's not his fault though, he's a by-product of a rule that says Minnesota must have a player included. Throw Stephen Vogt and the Athletics in that group, as well as a couple of others. It isn't these players faults, but instead a rule that baseball is punishing itself with.

Now we get to the meat of where baseball is missing the point. In an ever competitive landscape of sporting events, baseball has lost traction to football, basketball, and probably a handful of other forms of entertainment. In reeling fans back in, would showcasing the best of your product not be of the utmost importance. Whether including stars of yesteryear, or the up and comers, shouldn't they be what this All Star Game that counts is about?

Given the performance this season, Ichiro Suzuki isn't an All Star. He is however a star that's performing incredibly, and he's nearing an elite baseball milestone. He draws in a contingent of fans that involves an entirely different country, and his appeal goes well beyond America's borders. Carlos Correa is arguably one of the games best young stars. His youth draws in a new generation, and his talent could provide the next wave of fans emulating their hero. How do you not include the likes of Brandon Crawford, Gregory Polanco, Aaron Sanchez, or Aledmys Diaz? It really doesn't matter the rationale, considering the only thing that matters is they won't be there, and this one counts.

The game counts in terms of a win and a loss, but it also counts in the scope of advancing the product that is Major League Baseball. The sport wants to draw a younger generation towards the game. Baseball needs a revitalization of passionate fans, but the messages being sent by an All Star Game selection process suggest a tone deaf practice.

In no realistic scenario does the inclusion of Nunez, Vogt, Odubel Herrera, or Adam Duvall types advance the game of baseball. If fans of those teams were going to watch the game, they would have done so anyways. Having brighter stars selected to not only increase the level of talent on the field, but heighten the draw to the game likely advances every goal set forth for the Mid-Summer Classic.

Baseball wants a larger draw but is turning away its youngest ambassadors. The game counts but talent, or lack thereof, is watering it down. At the end of the day, the sport needs to get on the same page with itself, and make it not only count, but matter too.

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