Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All-Star Tuesday: One Year Later

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to attend last year's MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim.  Yesterday I was fortunate enough to liveblog the Home Run Derby, which featured an exciting, last-ups victory complete with a record number of home runs hit in the final round by the Yankees' Robinson Cano.  Just when I was beginning to think of the #HRDerby as dull and repetitive, they come back with an exciting nailbiter - kind of like how whenever MythBusters starts to get too stuffy and science-y, they pull out a sequence featuring Kari Byron running through some obstacle course or something.

And yet even after all the fun I had last year, and all the fun the fans in attendance have, and all the fun players appear to be having on the field, getting the chance to fraternize with the best and brightest in the sport, there's still a contingent arguing that the All-Star Game is obsolete?  Because of TV ratings?  Come on!  Everybody knows that TV ratings only exist for the benefit of advertisers and every advertiser knows that the climate of the industry is gravitating away from the 30-second TV spot and towards more new-age, interactive means of reaching consumers.

The All-Star Game is about so much more than TV ratings and showcasing the world's best commercials (the same cannot be said for events of other major sports).  It's all the things Mr. Fetter notes in his "Atlantic" article: a break from the grueling baseball season, and a (better) way to decide home field advantage in the World Series (than simple alternation).  But it's also about so much more.  It's about... well, I won't spoil it in the opening; you'll have to hit the jump to find out.

As a baseball fan who is particularly interested in lineup construction, the All-Star Game provides a first hand look, not just at what a roster made up of the best players in the league would look like, but how they actually play together over the course of a competitive contest.  I know this is the case for the All-Star Game in any sport, but just because it's widely true doesn't make it any less true for baseball.  The process of selecting the rosters is also highly interactive, allowing fans that truly care to pour over the stats and select the players who truly belong.

Furthermore, in weird, crazed, incredibly unlikely alternate universe where I was not a baseball fan, or had only cursory interest in the great sport, I could imagine the All-Star Game as a tremendous way to gain an understanding of which players are the highest regarded by both the fans and the top managers.  I know the All-Star rosters are a little skewed in terms of which players are straight-up the most talented, what with the fan vote essentially being a popularity contest, and so many players declining the opportunity, and every team having a representative no matter what.  But it's a very good starting point for potential scholars of the game.

So the game is not only fun for fans before the game, during the game, and after the game, it also provides a (probably) significant economic and cultural boon for the city that gets to host the game.  When I was in Phoenix for a pre-season exhibition game, I could see that the city was advertising for the festivities well before the season even started, and I can't imagine they didn't reap some kind of benefit from that.

And beyond the fans and locations, the game looks like it's a great experience for the players.  Not just for the perennial All-Stars (excepting the no-shows), but especially for the young first-timers who get to spend a couple days hob-nobbing with their (and our) heroes, learning from them, picking their brains, and just hanging around them absorbing some of their greatness and using it to augment their own.

So I know the All-Star Game isn't going anywhere, despite what the Nielsen box says - if only because high-powered agents love sticking All-Star appearance clauses in their clients' contracts.  By the time I post this, we still won't have next-day returns, and I honestly don't know if the declining trend will continue.  I hope it doesn't, if only to lend some more traditional legitimacy to the practice of filling up two midsummer nights' worth of primetime programming with more baseball-related activities.  But even if viewers are gravitating away from the game, it doesn't mean that people who enjoy it can't enjoy it a little more to make up for it.