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Jul 07

All Star Game Drama? Raise the Stakes.

My disdain for major league baseball’s All Star game format is well documented. I’ve written about it twice (here and here), and I’d write about it even more if I wouldn’t come across as some sort of baseball curmudgeon who hates all things fun. I have that particular area covered when I write about the Mets. You deserve a break. With the game quickly approaching (next Tuesday the 14th) and the starters having been announced yesterday, I thought I’d make an attempt to alter the game for the better by replacing the awarding of home field advantage with something fun.

After the tie in Milwaukee in 2002, MLB introduced the awarding of home field advantage to give the game a little flair. It matters now. Whether you believe the prize was a good idea or not, or whether you believe the reasoning was sound or not, the results based on the Nielsen Ratings show that the plan hasn’t exactly captivated television audiences:

NielsenRatingsMLB All Star Game Nielsen Ratings Since 1967

While it can be credibly argued that there are many reasons why the numbers are down that extend well beyond the game itself—the Internet, more entertainment choices, more television channels, common sense, etc—the simple fact is that since 2002 the ratings for the Summer classic have been slowly declining except when Derek Jeter retires. Seeing that an all-time great doesn’t retire every year, we’ll have to work under the premise that the game needs a bit more pizzazz. That’s where I come in. I’m here to bedazzle this game with shirtfuls of flair.

Years ago, I remember reading a David Foster Wallace article regarding satire. In short, Wallace was arguing that satire has a great way of exposing the flaws and the untruths, but it didn’t have the quality to build things back up. I searched, and I couldn’t find the quote that my mind thought was the real one, but I did find one of his on irony and cynicism:

Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. The virtuous always triumph? Ward Cleaver is the prototypical fifties father? “Sure.” Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, “then” what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.

In many ways it says the same thing. We’re so used to ridiculing and tearing things down that we never provide anything positive in its place? What do you when all the flaws are exposed? Think of the Emperor and his new clothes. What’s important here, though, is that I hate to be negative without providing something positive to replace it. So, with that being said, here are my ideas to replace the awarding of home field advantage with something different, in order of least obtrusive to “wow, that would really screw with a team’s chances to win.”

1.  Hotel Reservations: Wade Boggs was notorious for being a creature of habit before games, famously known for his eating chicken before each game, and I’d imagine that most major league players have a routine they like to adhere to before a game as well: go to sleep and wake at certain times; eat the same kind of foods and take the same supplements; arrive at the park at a specific time; ice baths, full body massages, etc. Part of that, too, involves staying at certain hotels that respect the players’ privacy and keep the adoring fans away. The last thing a player wants before the Series is screaming crowd of fans.

I’m imaging scenes from 8 Men Out right now with a mob of belligerent fans making life uncomfortable for Chicago outside the team hotel. I’m fairly certain that Stephen Strasburg would cry himself to sleep if this were to happen today.

Let’s forget all that. With this idea, the World Series team from the winning league gets to pick all hotel accommodations for the losers for the entirety of the Series.

Oh man, could you imagine what kind of havoc could be caused if the Astros, determined to really stick it to the Nationals, decided that Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer could be neutralized by a night at the Bates Motel with a broken down ice machine humming outside all night? What was that? Oh, that was just the drunk guy in room 8 looking for a Coke for mixed drinks. I love this idea so much that I think it would be great fun to have a website that tracks each city’s hotels and marks where the team stayed each night.

The possibilities here are sort of endless. One night, the Nationals stay at the Motel 6, and the next night they move across town to the Econo Lodge. Does Ian Desmond risk ordering room service? Will those bed bugs distract Drew Storen enough so that he grooves one to George Springer with the bases loaded in the ninth?

Love this idea.

2.  Khakis and Waders? Can you imagine a professional baseball game played in flip-flops and biker shorts? What about a game where one team is forced to dress like KISS (in full face paint) and field grounders in silver boots with 12-inch heels?  That’s right. The winning side can choose the outfit that the losing side wears for the entirety of the Series. MLB would love it because they could market new and pricey “officially licensed” apparel, and the fans would love it as fashion bloggers tweeted the latest rumors or leaked images of Saturday’s ball gowns.  Ever wonder what Kris Bryant would look like in gold sequins?

Perhaps this is your chance.

When I first thought of this idea, it was funny in a very general sense because I limited my vision to grown men dressed like women’s college softball players: shorts, shirts with rolled up sleeves, and knee-high socks with the stitched in vertical stripe. When you limit your thinking like that, this idea is fairly harmless.

The more I think about it, this idea could really mess with a team. If you took it to its logical extreme, without any restrictions, the Cubs could force the Royals to wear heavy plate armor and there goes any advantage with an outfield of Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. What about Gordon, Cain, and Jarrod Dyson forced to wear faux sumo suits? I’m okay with this. Even if it’s limited to warm-ups. Adding restrictions, though, would make this one fun while also drumming up some interest outside the typical markets.

On a more realistic level, what if the Cubs could force the Royals to wear coaches’ cleats instead of actual baseball spikes? Maybe there’s a true throwback Thursday game wear Kansas City has to wear heavy wool Packers uniforms while the Cubs wear their Whales uniforms but with modern, breathable fabric.

3.  DH Anyone? With home field advantage awarded based on the All Star game winner, the winning league dictates a possibility for the majority of games to be played either with or without the DH.  Let’s take that a step further.  The winning league gets to choose if the DH will be used at all.

This is the first idea that has some merit because it’s both possible (I think people could talk themselves into this idea) and it would introduce an element of strategy into the series. Sure, Alex Rodriguez has been hitting the ball extremely well this season, but what good is he to the Yankees if he’s forced to pinch hit for an entire series? Does Joe Girardi sit Chase Headley to get Rodriguez’s bat in the game? On the flip side, do the Yankees want the Dodgers to have a DH so that they now have an opportunity to hit with all those outfielders?

What if the Mets make it? There’s no way New York would use the DH since their pitchers are some of their better hitters, and it’s a no-brainer to force the team’s regulars to bat. I think Terry Collins goes all in and uses the DH but forces both teams to use as pitcher as the DH. Steven Matz or Jacob deGrom would likely be the DH anyway, so why not force Buck Showalter to use Chris Tillman in the same way.

Okay, this one is kind of genius.

Chatting about this article with a buddy of mine, he suggested extending the rule out to the entirety of the next season. If the AL wins, the NL would be forced to DH for the entire next season and if the NL wins, the AL will do without. This would cause chaos in front offices across the major leagues as GMs work to either sign a broken down first basemen that can mash or figure out a way to limit Nelson Cruz’s damage in the field. The Players’ Union would certainly have a say in this, and GMs would probably go on strike if it were really to happen, but it would make the All Star game interesting wouldn’t it?

4.  Pick ‘Em: Let’s say it’s the bottom of the eigth inning and Yadier Molina is coming up to bat with runners on the corners and one out. The game is tied. Molina is hitting over .300 in the Series so far, and Joe Buck is reminding everyone what kind of damage Molina can do with the game tied in the postseason. Who do you think Ned Yost wants to use against Molina in that situation?  Wade Davis? Kelvin Herrera? Maybe Yost decides he needs to bring in Greg Holland and stop this nonsense in its tracks.

Wait. The Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny calls mulligan and forces Yost to use Franklin Morales instead. It’s a gamble since Morales has forced batters into hitting the ball on the ground 51% of the time this year (a career high), but Matheny is banking on the idea that Morales will revert to his career norm of 40.8%. Plus, for his career, righties hit .274/.369/.460 against Morales compared to that .199/.265/.294 line against Holland.

That’s right; in this scenario, the team from the winning league gets to pick a game and time when the other team has to use a reliever of the winning team’s choosing. Not just one batter either. That’s nonsense. The chosen pitcher has to throw to at least one full innings worth of batters (three of course).

This could really swing the balance of the series if used correctly. If you’re Terry Collins, you’d probably use it in the first inning of Game 1, the Mets would go down 1-2-3, and you’d be out of challenges “reliever pick ‘em” for the rest of the Series.

The power of this particularly prize is that the team from the losing league can never quite be sure when the other team will drop the Ace card. It can only be used once since the power to do this throughout the entire Series is akin to using both controllers on the Playstation, but the ability to use this once is enough.

I love this idea. It’s powerful enough that it could really change a game and the Series, and it’s also harmless enough that it’s probably worth more in radio show chatter and sports columns than in real game strategy.

5.  The Wallflower: Matt Williams needs to win Game 4. The Nationals are up 2-1 against the Angels, and in Game 5, LA is scheduled to send Garret Richards to the mound. Richards blanked the Nats in Game 1, striking out eight. Sure, Williams has Max Scherzer for Game 5, and Williams sure does like his odds there, but what if he can take a decisive lead in the Series with Jered Weaver on the mound?

Because the NL won the All Star game this year, Williams sees an opportunity and forces the Angels to sit Mike Trout for the entirety of Game 4. The Nationals, behind a now healthy and well rested Strasburg, shut down the Angels and roll to an easy 8-2 victory. The Nats are a near lock to bring D.C. a title.

So, obviously, my final recommendation for increasing viewer interest in the Summer Showcase is to allow the team from the winning league to force their opponents to sit one player for the entirety of a game. Unless it’s a Game 7, a manager would likely not choose to sit a starting pitcher since they could just move to the next game, but if it’s Game 6, there might not be a Game 7 if your ace is forced to watch the long inning reliever gut it out for three to four excruciating innings. How angry would you be if your team couldn’t start Matt Carpenter or Bryce Harper or Manny Machado because your league screwed up the All Star game? What if it happened because Chris Sale pitched just one inning or Francisco Rodriguez coughed up the go-ahead home run to Josh Donaldson?

This is my favorite idea. It’s goofy enough that it would cause sports writers to argue against it for months, and then during the Series, we’d be discussing both how to properly use this to a team’s advantage and how incredibly unfair it is.

Sounds perfect.

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