Feinstein: MLB Should Nix All-Star Game

John Feinstein explains why the Midsummer Classic has reached its expiration date

John Feinstein
July 08, 2019 - 2:07 pm
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

USA Today Images


Once upon a time, I loved the Major League Baseball All-Star game. This was in the mid-60s when I had first become a baseball fan and loved the idea of seeing Willie Mays lead off for the National League because it meant he would get more at-bats and because he could steal a base as well as just about anyone on the field not named Maury Wills.
The first All-Star game I remember was in 1964. Two things stood out for me: the game was held in brand-spanking-new Shea Stadium and the Mets’ Ron Hunt started for the National League at second base.
Johnny Callison hit a three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth—24 years before Dennis Eckersley coined the phrase “walk-off.”
The game was played in the afternoon. Except for 1943 and 1944 when the game was played at night during World War II, the All-Star game took place in bright sunshine, until 1968. Since then, it’s been a night game because almost everything in sports takes place at night nowadays. TV ratings rule.
Oh, for the record, those two World War II games took two hours and seven minutes and two hours and 11 minutes to play. Check your watches on Tuesday night two hours and 11 minutes after the first pitch. If the game has reached the sixth inning, it’ll be a minor miracle.
My love for baseball hasn’t slackened at all since those innocent days when Hunt being an NL starter was a huge deal for me or since Tom Seaver got the save in 1967 as a Mets rookie, pitching a scoreless 15th inning in a 2-1 National League win.
But I began to cool on the All-Star game when it became a night game for good in 1968—although the 1969 game was played on Wednesday afternoon after a rainout in Washington on Tuesday night.
Since then, the starting lineup introductions have taken longer and longer, the notion that the game means anything is long gone—Bud Selig’s ridiculous notion of letting the winning All-Star league host game seven of the World Series notwithstanding—and players often go to the game moaning and groaning about the inconvenience of it all.
The 21st-century approach to the All-Star game may have been best summed up by the Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon who, upon learning he had earned his first All-Star trip said, “I think I’d probably rather have the time off.”

Last Friday, the Nationals announced that Rendon, who hasn’t missed a game in two months, would skip the All-Star game to “rehab” a couple of minor injuries during the four-day break.
Once upon a time, no one selected for the All-Star game would miss it. And a player selected for the first time would practically crawl to the All-Star site to be a part of it all. Rendon could have gone and played an inning—or two—meaning he might play two innings in FOUR DAYS.
The excuse, of course, is that he’s an introvert who doesn’t like attention. That’s fine. He’s a wonderful player and that’s really all that matters. But he’s also the kind of guy who, upon signing a contract in the $250 million range next winter, will probably moan about all the taxes he’s going to be paying.
Players come up with excuses and mystery injuries to avoid the All-Star game all the time these days. The notion of the All-Star game as an optional exercise probably dates to Garry Templeton’s famous 1979 declaration: “If I ain’t startin’ I ain’t departin’.” He had been selected to the National League team as a reserve. Not good enough.
Personally, I wouldn’t bat an eye if MLB just abandoned the All-Star game. Frankly, I’d be fine if all professional sports gave up All-Star games. Do we really need to watch a basketball game with more than 300 points scored because no one dares guard anyone? Or football without real blocking or tackling? Or hockey that isn’t even a full game because the NHL has tried about 100 different formats un-successfully?
Once upon a time, pride was enough. I remember as a kid when the National League’s domination of the American League during the ’60s meant something. The game was played and managed like a real game. You might think Pete Rose’s blowing-up of Ray Fosse in the 1970 game was over the top (it was), but at least the two men were trying. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see a twist contest break out at the plate than any kind of serious attempt to score or stop a score.
Of course, the All-Star game isn’t going away. It is too much of a money-maker for MLB for that to happen. Somehow the league and ESPN have convinced fans that the home run derby (I refuse to put it in capital letters) is a real thing. Last week, someone wrote a piece on ESPN.com claiming the “derby” was the new summer national pastime.

On Monday, ESPN did a TWO-HOUR pre-derby show. Folks, it’s batting practice with bells and whistles. Nothing more. But people pay real money to be in the ballpark (personally, if need be, I’d pay to NOT be in the ballpark) and people sit around watching the thing on TV.
At least the All-Star game itself is baseball. Sort of. A pitcher MIGHT pitch two-innings at most and guys like Max Scherzer, who is (again) arguably the best pitcher in the National League, will show up but not pitch an inning because the Nationals need him rested for next weekend.
Everyone needs their players rested. Which is why what baseball should REALLY do is announce All-Star teams, let the players collect their All-Star bonuses and give them two days off after Sunday’s games and start back again on Wednesday.
Until recently, everyone started playing again on Thursday, giving the All-Stars a full day to get home or to wherever their team was picking up the season. In baseball, that’s a pretty good break, especially since not too many of the players (none nowadays) are flying economy in a middle seat.
Then, a few years back, MLB began playing a limited Thursday schedule. Now, no one plays until Friday.
I will readily admit this is a totally selfish notion, but I can’t stand four straight days without any real baseball in the middle of July. Thursday is especially difficult because I remember when Thursday was dotted with Twi-Night doubleheaders as teams began making up rainouts to start the second half. It was a perfect time to do it because coming up with two starters wasn’t that difficult after three days off.
Now, Thursday is another dark day—literally and figuratively, except for the Astros at Texas, because ESPN needs programming that night. I can watch The John Deere Classic late in the afternoon but after that? Sure, there are Seinfeld and Big Bang Theory reruns, but that’s what I usually like to watch during daytime work breaks. Not at night. Not in July. It’s summer and I need to get upset about the Mets’ latest break down. Or the team’s leadership claiming that a team with a 40-50 record still has a chance to contend.
Sure it does. And I have a chance to be invited to join Augusta National. (For the record, I’d turn it down). But that isn’t an issue I will ever have to worry about.
I digress.

I think the only thing worse than the All-Star break is trying to escape from all the hype drummed up about two non-events, the total ripoff on Monday and the event on Tuesday that was once great but has now outlived its time of relevance.
What Selig should have done after the dreadful tie of 2002 was said, “Enough, the time has come to call this off.”
Of course he didn’t. He came up with the ludicrous notion of allowing an exhibition game decide where game 7 of the World Series would be played. If Rob Manfred has done one thing right—and it may be exactly one thing—it is doing away with World Series home field being decided by the All-Star game in 2016. It only took 14 years to figure that one out.
The shark was jumped for good in 2004, when Fox’s pre-game included a stunningly bad song explaining that “this one was for real”—which included Roger Clemens singing. It wasn’t real and, as it turned out, neither was Clemens at that point in his career.
So, I find myself in the same boat as Anthony Rendon. I have no desire to be there either. And, when the game does end Tuesday night—or quite possibly Wednesday morning—I’ll be sound asleep.
Wake me on Friday when baseball season (finally) starts again.
John Feinstein’s most recent book is “The Prodigy,” the story of a 17-year-old with a chance to win the Masters who must hold off agents, equipment reps and his own father, all of whom want to turn him into a human ATM machine. His latest non-fiction work is, “Quarterback—Inside the Most Important Position in Professional Sports.” It spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list…John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com