In 2003, he made the All-Star Game a popularity contest that players must now reluctantly take seriously. The league – American or National – that wins the Mid-Summer Classic gets home-field advantage in the World Series. The World Series, folks! Baseball’s biggest stage should not be determined by a glorified exhibition game, let alone by a popularity contest.
Then who, you might inquire, should be entrusted with selecting the group of players who give their league the greatest chance of winning? As of today, fans choose the starters, and players, coaches and managers decide the others. However, fans have proven themselves incapable of voting for the best players on a consistent basis, hurting their league in the process.
The answer is not always straightforward and will not always come from common statistics or sabermetrics. Aging icons such as Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki top their positions every year in terms of votes, yet clearly are no longer worthy of starting. Still other players have sub-standard seasons and get voted on only because of the talent they have shown in previous years.
By ignoring current stand-out players and instead choosing starters based on past accomplishments or which team they play for, fans ignore new, younger talent who might otherwise never have their chance to shine. Saying goodbye to our heroes of the past is not easy. So fans continue to cast their votes for familiar players.
This is called receiving a lifetime achievement award and a “he’ll come through when it matters” argument from every so-called baseball expert or fan. But it warrants nothing more than an eye roll.
The point is, the way fans treat the All-Star game does not reflect the way Bud Selig envisioned the experiment of making it a meaningful game. More importantly, players have seemingly not responded much differently than before the stakes were raised. To them, the All-Star Game and the days off surrounding it remain a time of relaxation and enjoying the summer nights with family.
They should not have to worry about who wins. But because players have no choice, they should also be able to determine their league’s own fate, with limited input from anyone outside professional baseball - especially the fans.