The MLB All-Star game will take place tonight in Minnesota, and with it will come all of the declarations from the league offices about how the game is more than just an exhibition, with home field advantage in the World Series on the line. MLB has been on a crusade over the past decade to convince us that the All-Star game is meaningful, yet at the same time, it continues to cling to the outdated rule that every team needs to be represented on the rosters.
To be sure, there’s a whole lot that’s wrong with the All-Star selection process, and nearly all of it lies with the fact that MLB can’t decide whether the game is supposed to an important event which fans should legitimately care about, or a fun exhibition that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Frankly, if it wants to put something as pivotal as World Series home field advantage on the line, why are fans still voting for the starting lineups at all, given the preponderance of ballot stuffing we’ve seen over the years?
However, fan voting is an ingrained tradition in All-Star games across all of the major American sports, so expecting that to go away anytime soon is a pipe dream. Yet that doesn’t mean that something can’t be done about the absurd rule that every team has to be represented.
Murphy is simply there because he’s merely the best of a thoroughly underwhelming crop of Mets players, with the same thing capable of being said about Castro.
Baseball is the only sport in which a rule like this in place, which becomes even more ridiculous when you consider that it’s also the only one in which the game’s outcome has “real” consequences for the rest of the season. What ends up happening is that at least one player every single year gets named to the team in place of a more deserving colleague whose team is already represented.
This year, the most obvious examples of this are New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
To be fair to both players, neither are egregious inclusions on the team, as both have had solid, if unspectacular, first halves of the 2014 season. Additionally, with expanded rosters and injury replacements, most of the more egregious snubs tend to get added to the rosters anyway, as we’ve seen so far this year with the additions of players like Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Seager, and Ian Kinsler as injury replacements.
Yet it doesn’t change the fact that Murphy is simply there because he’s merely the best of a thoroughly underwhelming crop of Mets players, with the same thing capable of being said about Castro (whose inclusion was made worse by the fact that the Cubs were represented again when first baseman Anthony Rizzo won the “Last Man” fan vote after the initial rosters were announced).
In the case of Murphy, he’s put together a respectable .294/.342/.413 slash line this year while playing below-average defense at second base. Again, not a bad performance by any stretch, but not exactly anything worthy of special recognition, either. He’s been greatly outperformed this year by Milwaukee’s Scooter Gennett, whose .828 OPS is the best among all MLB second basemen not named Robinson Cano.
Meanwhile, Castro was selected as the only backup shortstop ahead of players like Los Angeles’s Hanley Ramirez and St. Louis’s Jhonny Peralta, both of whom have better OPS and WAR numbers.
The past few years include examples even more glaring than Murphy and Castro. Bryan LaHair was selected to be the lone Cubs’ representative in 2012 in the midst of a mediocre season, ahead of more worthy candidates like Paul Goldschmidt and Adam LaRoche. The same can be said for Michael Cuddyer in 2011, Ty Wigginton and Michael Bourn in 2010, Mark Buehrle in 2009, and perhaps my favorite example, Mark Redman in 2006, who compiled a 5.27 ERA in the first half for a woeful Kansas City Royals team.
MLB’s argument for implementing this rule is that it keeps fans of every team interested in the game, because apparently it thinks that Mets fans are going to be glued to their TVs on Tuesday night so get a glimpse of Daniel Murphy’s 6th inning pinch hitting appearance (and I say this as a die-hard Mets fan).
Treating the All-Star game like an elementary school theater performance where everyone gets a role was bad enough when the game didn’t mean anything. But if they really want to convince us that it’s meaningful, it should simply be about using the best players—not some of the best players and some others who happen to be the best of bad teams.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to decide if the All-Star game is about entertainment or importance, because it can’t have it both ways.