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Let's add excitement and give meaning to All-Star Week.
by Charlie Miller
Asserting that baseball's All-Star Week must be overhauled presumes that something is amiss with the current setup. While the All-Star festivities as they currently exist leave much to be desired for me personally, I don’t believe the situation is dire by any means, like say, with the Pro Bowl. Not even close. But here’s how I would dismantle the current system with five purposes in mind: enjoyment and engagement of the fans, fun for players, maintaining a TV spectacle, revenue for the league and protecting players for the purposes of guarding the integrity of the regular season.
First of all, in order to execute recommended changes, we need four days. So, take a four-day break. Many teams already get Thursday off, so give all teams that extra day. This is not a huge departure, so there should be little opposition.
Hold two Futures Games. One for lower-level prospects, say, Rookie League and Single A; one for higher level players, more like AA, AAA. Fans would be treated to two fabulous games and get a glimpse into the future of the sport. One game would basically be 18- to 21-year-olds with enormous talent still finding their way in pro ball. A second game would feature more mature players closer to the big leagues. Players would be eager to play, and the risk/fear of injury would be no more than regular season minor league games. These players would be on a national stage trying to prove themselves in front of scouts, executives, managers, peers and fans. This would satisfy all five criteria outlined above.
Trim All-Star rosters to 25. This is not Little League where every player gets a trophy and everyone gets to be an All-Star. Being an All-Star should mean something. But having 84 players claiming All-Star status waters down those truly deserving. And 15 years from now when we’re voting for the Hall of Fame, seeing that Scott Rolen is a seven-time All-Star makes that criteria sketchy (not that too many voters look at that anyway, but it could make a difference). In the Rolen example, I would submit that in his previous six All-Star appearances, he was worthy five times. He was voted onto the team by the fans in 2005, so we’ll count that. But he’s hitting .241 with a .276 OBP this season. And he’s probably fifth in the pecking order at his position. Yet, now we must call him a 2011 All-Star.
Why do we need 13 pitchers? How many times in real life would a team use 13 pitchers in a game? Even preserving pitchers’ arms should be no reason to use 13 pitchers save an extended extra-inning game. Here’s how the new scenario would work: The starting pitcher goes three innings, two more starters go two innings each, have four closers, at least one from each side, to close out the final two innings. This idea would have managers gameplanning to use seven pitchers under normal circumstances. Now add two emergency starters and two setup/specialist relievers. That’s 11 total. Generally fans can expect to see seven to nine pitchers from each team. The two emergency starters and two or three relievers probably would not get in the game. But, hey, this is the majors, not everybody gets to play. This gives managers legitimate options to play matchups and actually manage for the sake of winning as opposed to managing to get every pitcher in the game. I probably don’t have to remind fans who witnessed the 2002 game why I’m suggesting two emergency starters. But, by all means, I would have position players pitch before calling the game a tie. I just don’t see how any of this really compromises the players’ regular season. And the upside is huge.
This leaves 14 position players, which means only six backups. How that is configured is up to the manager, but this allows for the top players to play the entire game. If Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Ken Griffey Jr. could do it, then so can Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp and others. Fans would love that. TV would love that. And really, would that cost those guys a regular season game? If so, then don’t show up, but another change I would make is that only players who show and are ACTIVE are credited with being All-Stars. If you’re not available to play for whatever reason, you can’t carry the name All-Star with you.
Two rules I like are having every team represented. There are only a few instances every 10 years or so that an undeserving player makes the team in order to satisfy this rule. Keeping the rule that allows a catcher to re-enter would also be a good thing.
Host a good old-fashioned Old-timers Game. Forget softball, fans want to see Ozzie Smith, Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers and Ricky Henderson play a real game. Who can forget the moment when Luke Appling, at age 75, blasted a home run in an old-timers All-Star Game off Warren Spahn in 1982. This would keep the history of the game alive, connect former players with current players and boost the pension fund. Play seven innings with younger guys playing the first few innings and have cameos by older guys later in the game.
Incorporate a few more skills competitions. I know since Barry Larkin blew out his elbow, this has been taboo, but I’d watch Michael Bourn and Nyjer Morgan race around the bases, or from home to first or first to third.
Maybe incorporate more players in home run derby. I don’t have the answers yet, but maybe its having three All-Star outfielders in play and outs are only recorded for foul balls, balls that don’t reach the grass in the air, or are caught by the outfielders. Wouldn’t this be much better than watching kids stumble all over themselves and not making any catches?...Maybe there could be a competition that has hitters of one team try to hit ground balls – not line drives – by infielders of the opposing team….Dare we pit pitchers against a radar gun? Or maybe pitchers should throw to small targets around the plate. Hockey seems to make that work for shooters. Let's get creative here.
Shorten the HR Derby. Not that I'm a fan anyway, but 10 outs is a lot per round. Put outfielders in play and give hitters five outs. Let’s move this along. Adrian Gonzalez waiting an hour and 45 minutes to hit his second time is probably not a good idea. Plus I’d love to see outfielders robbing home runs during the derby. That makes it even more of a team thing.
Monday: HR Derby, Skills competition, Celebrity BS
Tuesday: Futures Games – Doubleheader
Wednesday: All-Star Game
Thursday: Old-timers Game, to include HR Derby and skills competition
Am I the only one?
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com