They hype the game with the slogan “This Time It Counts,” and the slogan itself is tired because big-league baseball’s annual All-Star Game has “counted” — i.e., home field in the World Series goes to the winning league — since 2003.
More tired, however, is the very concept. The Mid-Summer Classic, overwhelming evidence clearly suggests, is nothing more than an exhibition game, and that it has a major impact on the sport’s crown jewel — the Fall Classic — is a sham and a disgrace.
Let’s start with the genesis of the idea. In 2002, the respective managers in the game, Bob Brenly of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, took the Little League approach — everyone plays — entirely too far and were flat out of pitchers after the 11th inning. The result was the most chaotic box score you’ve ever seen, a most unsatisfactory 7-7 tie, and a most unflattering photograph of commish Bud Selig with his palms spread upward in the universal sign for cluelessness.
It was ugly all the way around, and that no MVP was named officially stamped it as a flaming bag of poop of a game. But it wasn’t an indication that the All-Star Game was broken; it simply told us that future managers needed to be a little smarter about which pitchers they use and when.
Rather than trust grown men to learn from their mistakes, however, baseball came up with “This Time It Counts,” and in the first year of countage, the man of the hour was Hank Blalock, whose late home run gave the American League the victory and the Yankees home-field advantage in the World Series.
Blalock’s 2003 Texas Rangers, by the way, came in last place in the AL West. He was off fishing for blue gill when his home run really counted.
The idea that the 2002 tie had somehow tainted the All-Star Game to the point that the stakes needed to be raised to maintain fan interest was so far off it’s almost funny.
Far funnier is that the 2005 All-Star MVP who played such a key role in getting home-field advantage in the World Series for the Chicago White Sox was Miguel Tejada, whose Baltimore Orioles finished 21 games out of first place in the AL East.
Fans were not about to lose interest in the All-Star Game in 2002, and making the game “count” didn’t do a thing to heighten fan interest in the game. The game was and always will be one gigantic valentine to the fans, who get to name the starters in each league even if it means Cal Ripken getting a nostalgic nod in 2001 despite playing a first half that made him a better candidate for the Triple-A All-Star Game.
And hey, Cal went yard and won the MVP in that game. So the fans got exactly what they wanted, and that’s all the game should ever be about. It certainly shouldn’t be about one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor Hoffman, having to answer questions about being responsible for the AL having home field in the World Series again.
It should be about fun, pure and simple. This year’s NL manager, Phil Garner of the Houston Astros, understands that, but because the game “counts,” even Garner made baseball look like a bunch of boobs Tuesday night after Fox let us all in on his pregame talk with his players.
Garner made it clear that he planned to stay out of the way. There will be no signs, he said. Steal when you want to steal. Swing away on
3-0 counts, if you’d like. “Strut your stuff,” he repeated several times. In other words, if you’re looking for strategy, don’t look at Scrap Iron.
Several minutes later, obviously unaware of what had just aired, announcer Joe Buck told us Garner and his counterpart would be managing the game as if it were “the seventh game of the World Series.”
Or not. Oops.
So let’s call this what it is, and what it will be again next summer, when the game is at AT&T Park. It’s time for a new slogan: “This Time It’s A Bad Idea, Too.”
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.