The Major League Baseball All-Star game used to be a big deal.
Before interleague play, the All-Star game was the one time to see the American League star sluggers against the National League ace pitchers and vice versa. It was cool, and it meant something to the players.
Now with interleague play allowing AL and NL teams to face off regularly and the foolish rule change that the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series means the game has become mundane and means too little to the players and too much to everyone else.
Are there ways to fix it? Sure, but they make too much sense and would never be agreed upon by the players and the owners because, well, they make too much sense.
Granted, some of the luster of the midsummer distraction was forever lost by the explosion of baseball across media platforms from national cable superstations to almost nightly games on either the MLB Network or ESPN and streaming video on the Internet. Thirty years ago, the only way for a baseball fan from the South to see Mike Schmidt or Dave Parker was to watch them in the All-Star game. Now every baseball highlight is shown in an almost continuous cable TV loop from 11 at night to lunch the following day.
That said, there are still huge opportunities to greatly improve what used to be the crown jewel of pro sports all-star games. How can they fix the All-Star game? Glad you asked.
Problem: First, home-field advantage in the World Series is much too great a stake for an exhibition. It's like if you and your buddies wanted to make the back nine of a golf course interesting and decided to bet the pink slips of your car. There has to be some answer between nothing at stake and having to walk home and explain to the wife that you lost the car, right?
Answer: A lot of players have a clause in their contracts that includes some form of All-Star bonus. Sixteen players picked for Tuesday's game, including no-show Derek Jeter with a $500,000 bonus, get some extra coin for making the All-Star game. Put that on the line. The players on the winning team get to keep their bonuses; the losing team will donate theirs to charity. And for the players who don't receive a bonus, the clubs can come up with $10,000 for each of them, too. (You don't think the Braves would have been happy to agree to pay 10 grand in March in return for a dominant first-half effort from closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been lights out.)
Problem: Whether it's interleague play or just the wear and tear of the everyday baseball grind, it certainly seems the players do not view being an All-Star with as much honor as they once did. This year 16 either declined their invitations or missed the game because of injury. To be fair, the starting pitchers who threw Sunday were asked not to come because they were not going to be able to pitch - and that's a good change.
With all the replacements and the roster moves, 84 players were named All-Stars this year. That's more than 11 percent of the league.
Answer: This always will be a hurdle - especially in regard to injury. This will change a great deal when we change the way All-Stars are picked. Fan voting used to be cool, but online voting has skewed the process. Let the fan vote determine the top three candidates at each position and let a panel of players, managers, GMs and other baseball types decide the starters.
Plus, move the game to Wednesday night rather than Tuesday and start the second half of the season on Friday to help pitchers get an extra day of rest and be available for the All-Star game.
Problem: The game is boring.
Answer: Well, it's going to be tough to solve this one because baseball is slow at its core. That said, use this chance to introduce possible rule changes - yes, we're talking about instant replay - and new technologies to make the experience more enjoyable for the fans. Let's try new camera angles, and why can't we get a mic on Brian McCann?
But that would force players and owners to actually think of the fans, and we all know that's not really an in thing in professional sports right now.