By so many accounts, Cleveland did a tremendous job hosting the All-Star Game last week. Players, fans, visitors, and locals loved the work that went into it and the fun events around town.
For those of us not in Cleveland, like myself, the Home Run Derby was an incredible piece of entertainment but the marquee contest, the All-Star Game itself, was a big letdown. This is hardly news, as the game itself has always been a letdown. Run scoring — that part of the game that actually drives interest (shut up, I like strikeouts as much as the rest of you but can admit that runs are what actually makes things consistently fun) — is depressed 10% in baseball’s midsummer classic; among big four leagues, MLB is the only one in which the All-Star contest features less runs, per FiveThirtyEight.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the week since the ASG. Cleveland may not host again in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean the game itself shouldn’t be improved for future contests. With that in mind, here are some propositions for how MLB could make everything more fun for everyone involved.
Steal from other leagues
Now that Bud Selig’s ill-fated home field advantage to the winner of the ASG has gone the way of the dodo, playing American League versus National League is completely unnecessary. So why not make it Team Trout versus Team Yelich? This would really highlight the friendships and friendly rivalries within MLB, which is something that makes both the NBA and Trevor Bauer’s Momentum interesting and enjoyable.
Emphasize both safety and offense
The NFL Pro Bowl has taken measures in recent years to make sure that players are not hurting themselves in a meaningless exhibition, measures that simultaneously serve as a stimulant for offense. It’s hard to come up with an MLB equivalent to no blitzing, but I think it would have to be at least somewhat related to Brad Hand throwing 33 pitches in his appearance. Perhaps pitchers could agree to toss batting practice rather than their usual 90+, but would you really be able to convince extremely competitive guys to pull back and would it actually prevent arm injuries? I’m not certain the answer to those questions, nor am I certain you could keep the game similar to regular season baseball while emphasizing safety and offense. But, as seen with the NHL’s decision to make their All-Star Game three on three, removing any semblance of “normal” play is not always a bad thing.
Out of left field ideas
Play a different game
If you want to protect players and add offense, why not play slow-pitch softball. MLB already does this for celebrities, so it’s not like the league can’t organize this kind of game. Plus, everyone could hit, even some goofball like Trevor Bauer, and non-pitchers could take the mound to help preserve pitchers’ arms. We already know how talented these players are based on their regular season play, so why not make this event 100% focused on their fun side? Combined with the player draft, this could be a delight to take in. Or, hell with it, really have fun and play kickball instead.
Play anything but usual positions
Similar to the softball idea, why not have players take on a new position. Again, this is about fun, and watching players take on a position you don’t expect them to is really, really fun. It’s part of Willians Astudillo’s mystique and the best Cut4 thread. Some guys could take over a position they used to play, like Carlos Santana at catcher, and others could get real weird, like Shane Bieber at shortstop. Of course, if this idea were to come to fruition, it couldn’t be the game as its played during the regular season because, as editor extraordinaire Matt Lyons pointed out to me, some silly, competitive player like Frankie Lindor will lay out to try make an outfield catch and pull his whole arm off or something. So, you swap out the ball for one of those soft tee-balls, play wiffle ball, or wrap the players in those ridiculous bubble soccer balloons — whatever it takes to have fun and not get hurt.
No game, just skills competitions
The home run derby, the dunk contest, speed skating: these are the best part of any All-Star festivities and it’s not close. So, trash the game entirely and just have fun. In addition to the annual home run derby, add a whole bevvy of skills contests for money, donations, other prizes, whatever. For example, bring The Freeze from Atlanta and get him running flagpoles against Terrance Gore and Billy Hamilton and maybe even a few non-Royals; or just do 90-foot races, it would be like Baseball Savant’s leaderboards come to life. Although this blog is vehemently anti-bunt, it certainly is a skill (and can result in something truly fun on rare occasions) and it would definitely be fun to see the Korean bunt derby adopted to the big leagues. Another idea is what I’m calling the Tom Emanski Challenge, in which outfielders have to hit targets (a trashcan, obviously) with a crow-hop throw; using StatCast data could add points for strongest throw, too. Options abound for skills contests, such as fastest double play combo, fungo bat target practice, or some funky StatCast-aided accuracy/speed challenge.
The options for change are unlimited, and it’s my humble opinion that they are overdue. In other sports and in MLB, the All-Star Game can be an awesome event, but baseball’s is a slog and showcases exactly the opposite of what the league would like to have people think about the sport. I’ve laid out a few options for improvement, some good and some bad, but all interesting, I hope. Perhaps you have ideas as well, share your best in the comments and let’s pretend like we can actually make the league’s showcase better.