The All-Star Game is stupid because "it counts". The baseball Midsummer Classic certainly has plenty of tradition, but it's a shell of what it used to be. The players used to care about the game, and their competitive fire was enough to make the game an event. Somewhere around the early 1990s, the game stopped being as competitive. Guys looked at it as more of a social event. We started hearing managers complain that their players were "overused" in the All-Star Game, thus risking injury in an exhibition game when there was a pennant race in progress and about to heat up. Fans would complain that their favorite player didn't get into the game (this really came to a head in the game in Baltimore, when Toronto/AL manager Cito Gaston didn't get hometown pitcher Mike Mussina into the game, and fans started peddling "Cito Sucks" T-shirts in retaliation).
Then came the game in Milwaukee. The tie.
The tie has been blamed on Bud Selig ever since it happened. Selig, after all, was the one who, after consulting with the American and National League managers, decided that the game would end in a tie if neither team had the lead after the 11th inning. The American League was out of pitchers. The National League only had Vincente Padilla left, and he was complaining of arm problems.
Escaping much of the blame? Everyone else.
The managers burned up their pitchers too liberally, leaving no one available to pitch in extra innings.
The players are more concerned with socializing and leaving town than they are in actually playing the game.
The media whipped fans into a frenzy when certain players didn't get into the game, especially during the aforementioned Gaston-Mussina incident.
Now, it counts. Baseball put in a ridiculous provision in 2003 that called for the winning league to gain home-field advantage in the World Series (home-field alternated until this provision kicked in). Baseball's brass was convinced that it would get guys to play to win, and it would get the managers to try to win the game.
Of course, with few exceptions, managers are still trying to empty their benches, and players are still treating the game as a social event. But Selig, in what has not been his finest moment as commissioner, continues to tout the new rule as having changed how the All-Star Game is contested.
In a way, he's right. It used to be a silly exhibition. Now, it's a silly exhibition that has a stupid rule attached to it that makes it "count".
This brings us to the selection process. Also stupid. Before I criticize, let me lay a few things out there:
--> I have no problem with the rule requiring every team to be represented. Some see it as archaic, but I think it's neat to have every team send at least one player. And it's an uncommon year that a team is so bad that they don't deserve to have anyone there (unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays have been doing this with increased regularity as of late). Maybe I have an inherent bias in favor of this rule from my years growing up as a Brewer fan.
--> I am fully opposed to not having a DH in the All-Star Game. Not only would that keep pitchers from having to hit (unless the manager really screws up at some point late in the game), but it would also permit one really good player in each league to get a roster spot that he wouldn't normally get, thus helping relieve logjams at certain positions (usually first base).
--> I have no issues with fans voting. The fans should have a say. Just not all the say. And as the NFL has proven, letting the players vote is an equally bad idea. The ideal voting breakdown would be to let the fan vote count 50%, and then have a cluster of coaches, managers, and scouts from each team vote, along with a group of television, radio, and newspaper reporters from each team, as well as some national representatives. The voting still wouldn't be "perfect" (no system would ever be perfect). But the likes of Joe Mauer wouldn't be on the bench to start the game.
Now, here are some numbers for American League pitchers. Three of these pitchers are on the American League roster.
Pitcher A: 9-1, 1.99 ERA, 81.1 IP, 59 H, 18 ER, 20 BB, 94 K, 0.97 WHIP, .548 OOPS (Opponents' OPS)
Pitcher B: 10-4, 3.13 ERA, 103.2 IP, 94 H, 36 ER, 31 BB, 65 K, 1.21 WHIP, .704 OOPS
Pitcher C: 8-0, 3.54 ERA, 96.2 IP, 87 H, 38 ER, 27 BB, 68 K, 1.18 WHIP, .608 OOPS
Pitcher D: 10-2, 3.54 ERA, 114.1 IP, 110 H, 45 ER, 14 BB, 102 K, 1.08 WHIP, .700 OOPS
Pitcher E: 9-5, 3.86 ERA, 116.2 IP, 125 H, 50 ER, 28 BB, 51 K, 1.31 WHIP, .712 OOPS
Pitcher F: 9-3, 3.17 ERA, 116.1 IP, 99 H, 41 ER, 22 BB, 104 K, 1.04 WHIP, .624 OOPS
Pitcher G: 8-3, 3.14 ERA, 100.1 IP, 94 H, 35 ER, 36 BB, 70 K, 1.30 WHIP, .715 OOPS
Pitcher H: 10-3, 3.72 ERA, 109 IP, 102 H, 45 ER, 25 BB, 61 K, 1.17 WHIP, .708 OOPS
(Please note that I left Scott Kazmir of Tampa Bay and Mark Redman of Kansas City off the list because they were the only member of their respective teams to be selected.)
So who made the team?
Well, if you guessed "Pitcher C", "Pitcher E", and "Pitcher H", you would be cheating. And you would also be illogically correct.
Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, and Kenny Rogers are on the team.
Francisco Liriano (A), Justin Verlander (B), Curt Schilling (D), Mike Mussina (F), and Nate Robertson (G) are not.
Of course, Contreras and Buehrle both play for the White Sox, whose manager, the unstable Ozzie Guillen, just happens to be managing the American League team. Why does this always happen?
I won't bore you with further numbers. Just a few more quick thoughts...
Why the hell is Gary Matthews, Jr., on the team? Where is Jason Giambi? Why are Jose Lopez and his .315 OBP making the trip to Pittsburgh? Why is Nomar Garciaparra relegated to the National League "Final Man" ballot? Why is Brian Fuentes on the team ahead of either Chris Capuano or John Smoltz? Why isn't Smoltz in the Final Man ballot?
The All-Star Game is stupid for a number of reasons. The "This time it counts" thing is the dumbest active marketing campaign in sports. The idea of letting the players vote to help select the reserves has clearly imploded, as could be expected if anyone looked at the Pro Bowl voting patterns of NFL players. The game runs far too long for anyone either employed or under the age of, say, 15, to actually see the end of it (I haven't seen the end of an All-Star Game since 2000).
But the discussions about who made the game and who didn't, and about the "every team must be represented" rule, will always be lively and somewhat enjoyable.