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All-Star game not what it used to be

Douglas Fritz • Jul 14, 2014 at 9:12 AM

Come Tuesday night, baseball fans will be enjoying the best all-star game in the world.

But to be honest, it’s not what it used to be — not even close.

Once upon a time, the Major League Baseball All-Star game was the only time certain players squared off against guys from the other league in a truly competitive setting. When Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession in the 1934 game, it was legendary stuff.

If Clayton Kershaw struck out Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz, most likely fans could yawn and say, “Yeah, saw that last week.”

Yes, interleague play has pretty much made the All-Star game mostly mundane and pretty routine. It’s still better than the buddy-hug defense of the NFL all-star version, or the would-you-mind-if-I-get-a-video-of-you-dunking-Mr.-James? defense the NBA offers.

At least in the MLB contest, pitchers are actually trying to get hitters out. Professional pride kicks in, and nobody wants to be remembered like former East Tennessee State standout Atlee Hammaker, who may always be linked to his fateful pitch to Fred Lynn — which turned into the first-and-still-only grand slam in All-Star game history back in 1983.

So it’s kind of like a real game, and MLB sees fit to even allow the game to determine home-field advantage for the winning team’s league. Now that’s drama, right? Well, not really.

Let’s say, for example, you are a big fan of the Boston Red Sox, but the New York Yankees are 58-30 at the break while the Sox are 30-58. David Ortiz comes to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs with the American League trailing by a run. A base hit by Ortiz means the AL gets home-field advantage for the World Series.

Yeah, I feel you, Sox dog. I’m rooting for Ortiz to whiff. Let those stinking Yankees play four games on the road if they make it to the Series.

Or even worse. We will call this the Jeff Samardzija Conundrum (just for fun). Let’s say Samardzija (I wonder if Chicago Tribune beat writers for the Cubs are somewhat happy he was traded, so they don’t have to look twice every time they type that name) pitched in the All-Star game for the Cubs, and was the winning pitcher with a dominant outing. Let’s say he strikes out six guys in two innings, and even gets the chosen most valuable player. Then he gets traded to Oakland, and reaches the World Series, where he is partly responsible for his team being at a disadvantage.

Let’s say the Athletics lose Game 7 on the road. That’s just not right.

As it is, Samardzija can’t pitch in the All-Star game for Oakland despite being chosen for the Cubs. This makes little sense to me. He earned the right to be in the game, but he can’t pitch to help his league earn home-field advantage? Is it like they are saying Samardzija would secretly pitch poorly in the All-Star to help his former league?

Bizzare stuff.

Lastly, the expansion of the All-Star rosters I’m sure makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy. Hey, I was an All-Star one year, says: Ryan Cook, Matt Harrison, Wade Miley, Bryan LaHair, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, Patrick Corbin, Jeff Locke and Everth Cabrera. Real star power, there. And all of those guys were in the game over the last two seasons.

So what does All-Star really mean these days? It means for at least part of three months, someone did their job really well. Try that in the real world and you’ll end up being fired as an auto mechanic, dentist, secretary, or really just about any profession. In baseball, you are lumped in with the guys who have truly been awesome for five, 10, or maybe even 15 years.

An All-Star used to be Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. Now an All-Star is St. Louis’ Pat Neshek and his 38 innings pitched with two saves. Whew. All that pressure.

Yes, it’s true you don’t have to be a star to play in the All-Star game.

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