So the Major League Baseball All Star Game is tonight. Reading that made you ten kinds of hyped, right? It made you go buy Sharpies and baseballs and fly to Minneapolis to get signatures and pictures and $10 bad ice cream and pit sweat and a bad $40 knockoff jersey. Right?
No, it probably didn't.
Ripping on baseball's All Star Game has become as American as watching baseball itself lately, it seems. A quick perusal of every major sports outlet's baseball page (SB Nation included) reveals that, well, people like the All Star Game just enough to not like it much at all. It includes too many people because the season's setup doesn't allow for enough of the right people to be included. Fans should and shouldn't have a say, and the same goes for managers and the players themselves...unless they should. It should count because it would count because it could count, but it should still be played as all fun and games.
Basically, the All Star Game has one prime purpose, and that's to keep the game of baseball juuuust relevant enough for five days while the rest of the aspects of the game take a deep breath. It'll never be perfect, and that's perfectly fine. Baseball's celebration of the game's biggest and brightest is flawed through both process and product, but it still manages to pick up the NFL's Pro Bowl by the ankles and give it a three-flush swirly. It buys Cheetos and invites friends over to laugh at the NBA's no-defense hype fest. I'd make a godawful metaphor for what the NHL's game does, but nobody has seen an NHL All Star Game since Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman shot pucks at plates in Winnipeg more than a decade ago.
You used to go to summer camp for a week and ruin every pair of shoes you had running through creeks and painting awful tie dye XXXXXXL shirts while not telling that one cute girl that you thought she was cute until the Friday night "awards" ceremony where one kid got 2 feathers while everyone else got just 1. Why'd they give out feathers, and why'd he get one more than you? Because every camp has a Friday night awards ceremony, and damnit, that's just part of it. Just because that sucked and was awkward doesn't mean camp wasn't amazing and everyone didn't laugh at Tommy after he peed the bed.
And that's the point. The All Star Game is just something that has to happen, because if it didn't exist, we'd want it to happen. And if we created it from scratch, well, we'd probably end up finagling our way through strange tweaks and ideas for 81 years and still have a flawed thing that paled in comparison to the rest of the season. That was what happened in 1933 when this whole affair began, and no matter what we say or do or change there will always be something about it that's just off. Pete Rose will truck a catcher, Mariano Rivera will allow a walk-off, Joey Votto will go 0 for 3, and every St. Louis Cardinal will go 8 for 3 with two grand slams.
Dingers won't go 700 feet, and pitchers won't throw 110 mph. Sometimes it will count, sometimes there will be two in one year, and sometimes this will happen in the middle of the actual game.
The more we try to turn the game into a crystallized, pure version of the rest of the 7 month season, the less ability we have to detach ourselves from why these players are on this stage to begin with. Derek Jeter is leading off for the AL not because he's going to go 2 for 4 with a walk tonight, he's leading off because he's gone 2 for 4 with a walk about a billion times in his career. Giancarlo Stanton is DHing for the NL because he's been designating balls 500 feet into upper decks everywhere for a few years, not because he's going to do that tonight. Aroldis Chapman will pitch a late inning when called upon because he can throw 105 mph. That's it.
It's one game. One little, tiny game amid a season full of nearly 2500 of them, one that fans from each team will watch intently with hopes that their guy gets the job done. He probably won't, though, because that's just how baseball is. That doesn't mean you won't watch, or won't care, or won't wish things hadn't turned out better, but it does mean that there's no way that the game can have the 16 best hitters in the lineups, the 2 best pitchers on the mound, and end with one team a victor while everyone pleases the masses. If Adam Wainwright strikes out 9 guys on 27 pitches tonight, it's because the AL stars did nothing. If Derek Jeter launches a leadoff dinger, it's because Mike Matheny picked the wrong guy to start for the NL. If it ends in a tie, it's because Bud Selig is a terrible Commissioner.
It's a game full of All Stars, not a game where everyone will play like a star. It's just a reason to take pictures and appreciate that it's why Cal Ripken, Jr. couldn't take a weekend fishing trip in the summer for 20 years.
So don't watch tonight's game to critique its flaws. Don't watch it to be mad that someone didn't get a chance to hit. Don't watch and nitpick the format, the strikeouts, or the 4-pitch walks. Watch it because it's baseball, and baseball is that flawed game where failing 28 times out of 40 means you'll have your career celebrated with a plaque.
Hope that tonight happens to be one of those special 12, but don't take offense if the annoying kid from Cabin 4 gets the extra feather instead of you. Rather, remember how fun it was ruining those shoes.
- Want a great breakdown of just who, exactly, these Stars you'll watch tonight are? Check out Grant Brisbee's analysis of the who/what/when/why/how these 79 players represent.
- The Dinger Derby was last night, and Todd Frazier did the Cincinnati Reds proud by finishing 2nd to defending champ Yoenis Cespedes. BeeK recapped it here earlier, as did C. Trent Rosecrans for the Enquirer.
- Mark Sheldon checked in with his latest notebook for Reds.com, and it's got some blurbage about Frazier's famous national anthem photo with Derek Jeter from 1998, Aroldis Chapman's recovery from smashed face to All Star, Johnny Cueto's nod sans pitching, and Devin Mesoraco's appreciation of the Reds' front office. Check that out.
- Sports on Earth's Aaron Gordon detailed his reaction to last night's Dinger Derby, and it seems he's got a similar train of thought on it as I do about the lead up to tonight's actual game.
- Non-ASG related, but check out John Paschal's journey to the center of the baseball card universe from The Hardball times, if you're into being into that sort of thing.