Editor's Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Friday, he discussed 2011 free-agent prospects.
In a world which has a critic for nearly every development, the baseball All-Star Game has been a popular target. It regressed from a spirited contest with very few bench players to one that saw most men play an inning or two and the result mean very little.
When it bottomed out in a tie in Milwaukee eighth years ago, the result of both teams running out of players, steps were taken to make the midsummer classic mean a little more. That gave us the current "This time it counts" system, which sees the winning league get home-field advantage in the World Series.
It's something, but it's far from perfect. We need more to make the best of the major professional sports' all-star games great once again. But what? What can be done to fix the All-Star Game?
Let's stray from the actual game itself for a moment. The pre-game festivities need a little fix-up in their own right. To begin with, remove Chris Berman and crew from the Home Run Derby. Thanks.
Now, do we really care when someone like Corey Hart hits eight batting practice pitches 400 feet? This has to be altered. Pitching machines are rather advanced these days, and what's the harm in having them make the deliveries? Sure, Josh Hamilton's spiritual mentor throwing to him is nice, and the back story is great for TV, but let's have a round where Hamilton and Hart and whoever else face fastballs right down the middle at 100 mph. The next round can give them a hanging curveball to swing at and the final round a weak knuckler.
Who cares if each guy hits .228 in the second half of the season because their swing is so messed up? We want to see them challenged by more than their 73-year-old uncle's 68-mph heater. A Hula Hoop contest could be put into the mix, too. Or at least some sort of skill competition in which less muscle-bound guys can compete. First to home on a ball in the gap … who's the fastest? Something like that.
Now, onto the game. The home-field advantage route is not without merit. The majority of the All-Stars are from teams that figure to have a chance to make the postseason. Certainly that provides some degree of incentive.
However, there must be more of an overhaul. One place to start is to keep the roster to a specific size. Any concerns over managers running out of players can be rectified if they are allowed to re-insert a set number of players if they ever do run out, say five or so.
Another would be to start the darn thing at a time when kids, and many adults, are not in their jam-jams. An 8:30 p.m. first pitch can turn into a midnight finish with all the substitutions and extended commercial breaks. Sure, the games on the West Coast present an issue, but take it on a case-by-case basis and make an effort to get the game underway at a more manageable time.
Finally, and this one is a bit tougher because there are some losing towns with great fans, we can stop the practice of having every single team represented. Most years this isn't too much of an issue as every team –even the Pirates – has someone worth sending. But all too often a very marginal Pirate or Royal is in a big situation when you know the manager is wondering why he couldn't have access to one of the stars left behind. At the very least, make the online voting charade one that can incorporate those teams without representation, either from the initial vote or from the managerial selections.
Then, bring in the pogo sticks and see who can bounce the longest. Oh, and get rid of Chris Berman. Did we say that already?
What can be done to fix the All-Star Game? Leave your comments below.
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