Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It may count, but it no longer matters

It's been 10 years since the infamous tied All Star Game, 10 years of the nonsensical "This Time It Counts" marketing mantra. 

Bud Selig and Fox desperately wish to convince the fans that the outcome of this glorified exhibition game is a matter of supreme importance to its participants.

To convince me, however, they're going to have to convince the participants, and it's obvious from the way they play the game that the outcome is secondary. Oh, they'd like to win -- athletes are wired to win -- but there are other, higher priorities.

Like getting everybody into the game. 

That wasn't always as important as it is now. You can tell by randomly googling some box scores from decades past.

In 1965 -- a game played in Metropolitan Stadium -- five members of the National League starting lineup played the entire game. So did two of the AL starters. 

In 1958, seven of the NL starters went the distance. Three pitchers pitched at least three innings. (And for the AL, the immortal Bob Cerv started in left field, with rinky-dinks Ted Williams and Al Kaline used as pinch hitters, which seems odd.)

I doubt any starter in today's game will play all nine innings. Few if any pitchers will work more than an inning. There are 34 players on each roster, and getting all of them into the game has to start early.

A few years ago Bill James drew up a detailed proposal for sharply condensed All-Star rosters -- I think it involved something like 16 players per league, and still kept the one-representative-per-team rule. It's not going to happen, but he's got a point.

Limit the rosters, and you'll automatically have All-Star games once again that feature actual stars -- and games that punish a league whose voters stick someone like Mike Napoli into the starting lineup. 

And if the stars are playing, rather than taking an at-bat and dashing out of town for their shortened vacation, the declining viewership might pick up.

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