By Ross Kelly
Last month MLB announced changes to the format of the Home Run Derby in an effort to increase interest. For the most part, the changes have been well-received but we will really find out if they are effective come Monday night. The changes implemented were long overdue as the competition had become stagnant in recent years and the Derby no longer felt like a must-see event. I especially like the distance bonuses and that is something I definitely would have put on this list had MLB not beat me to it. But more can still be done, not just for the Derby, but to all of the All-Star events. Here are my recommendations for ways to increase the interest, and quality, of All-Star week.
1. Fewer players selected
When MLB implemented the home-field advantage reward in 2003, it was in part to incentivize victory, and thus, treat it more like a real game. Well isn’t having 34-man rosters doing the exact opposite? It feels more like a spring training game when you look at the crowded dugouts and bullpens. The NBA and NHL don’t increase their rosters just for their All-Star Games and the NFL actually decreases its rosters for the Pro Bowl. It’s just awkward to see managers trying to fit 30+ players into a game and it certainly slows down the pace of the game which is a big focal point this season. If you want it to feel like a real game, then treat it like a real game and keep rosters at 25 (but still maintain the re-entry rule).
2. Eliminate home-field advantage incentive
Is it an exhibition or does “this one count?” It seems as MLB wants it both ways and I don’t think the current set-up is fair to those teams who actually advance to the World Series. Last year the World Series teams had All-Stars who contributed all of 1 IP and going 0-2 at the plate. It’s simply ludicrous that players who have no chance of even making the postseason can have a huge impact on the World Series. Furthermore, this incentive devalues the regular season as the team with the better record in the World Series doesn’t get rewarded with home field advantage.
3. Remove one player from each team rule
Along the lines of decreasing roster sizes, this should be the first casualty. I understand the host city having a player from its team in each game, but is Glen Perkins throwing four pitches in the 6th inning really going to tap into the whole Minneapolis market? As a baseball historian, I think this also distorts the perception on a player’s career as 20 years from now we could look back on a player and say, “Oh he was a x-time All-Star, he’s better than I remembered.” But how many of those selections were actually warranted? Imagine if the NBA did this; DeMar DeRozan would be like a 5x All-Star already!
4. Create “skills” competitions
This would be similar to the Skills Challenge in the NBA, except these events would all be separate. Who wouldn’t want to see which player can run the bases the fastest or which fielder can throw the ball the farthest? I think a hitting contest would be pretty cool as well where players get points for hitting a ball to certain areas of the field. The HR Derby is great but it encompasses just one of the “five tools”. Why not create competitions that let the non-sluggers show off their skills?
5. Add an honorary captain
Out of all of the major sports leagues, MLB probably does the best job at honoring their legendary players. But I think they can take it a step further and honor current players who are at the end of great careers by adding them as unofficial captains for each side. It would benefit the current All-Stars as well just from being around these players and soaking up their knowledge. They don’t even have to be future Hall-of-Famers to fill this role. Guys like Ichiro, Torii Hunter, or Tim Hudson are all examples of guys who could do it this year. I’m sure Jacob deGrom and Michael Wacha would learn more watching a game with Hudson than with Shelby Miller.
6. USA vs the World
This is an extreme longshot to happen, but even if it was just for a one-year experiment; I would like to see the best American players take on the best international players. With 28% of today’s players being foreign, and from a quick glance at the All-Star rosters; I think MLB could feasibly pull this off and field competitive rosters on both sides. Besides, it’s not like anyone is paying attention to the World Baseball Classic anyways (Question: When is the next WBC?). As a bonus, adopting this international format would also be another means at getting rid of the winner-gets-home-field-advantage reward.