Throughout my youth the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was a television event not to be missed. It was the rare opportunity to see the best players in baseball at one time.
Additionally, National League hitters would step to the plate against American League pitchers — for the only time that year other than the World Series: Mantle v. Gibson, Clemente v. Catfish, etc.
They all got together for one big night: Aaron, Killebrew, Koufax, Robinson et al. Just to see them on one field was a thrill.
Fast-forward to 2009. I will probably watch some of tonight’s All-Star Game unless a more thrilling episode of “House Hunters” in on HGTV. The luster is gone.
It has nothing to do with my love of the sport. I watch more baseball on TV and in person than ever before.
But in an effort to reach new fans and boost television ratings, MLB keeps adding gimmicks that water down the experience for those who truly understand and enjoy this remarkable sport. For one, having uninformed or understandably biased fans pick the starting players is a joke.
Inter-league play is another bad idea. Sure, it was neat seeing Jeter, Tex and A-rod at Turner Field recently. But it will make the World Series less special if (OK, a real big “if”) the two teams surge in the second half and face each other in the Fall Classic. (My Sunday school teachers taught me to believe in miracles.)
So to see players from the two leagues on the same field now is no big deal. (And, worse, inter-league play has created an unbalanced schedule meaning that teams playing for a division title are not facing the same competition.)
And with the way players move from to team to team now, some of the All-Stars may have to look at their jerseys to remember which league they represent this year.
Of course there are other gimmicks like the atrocious designated hitter rule that has turned the AL into pseudo-baseball. Managers in that league no longer “manage” — just keep roll. Gone is the art of a double-switch or having to handle a bullpen.
Increased television exposure may have lessened some interest in the All-Star Game, but I doubt it. Watching more baseball on TV seems to increase the interest.
In Denver recently, I met Braves fans from places like Montana and Utah whose allegiance was built during the Super Station era of nightly televised games. That loyalty caused them to travel good distances to see their favorite team.
Baseball is a perfect game. After all of these years (with high tech equipment and high-powered athletes), a soft grounder to short still makes for a close play at first. Pitchers and hitters — set 60 feet and six inches apart — still battle without distinctive advantages over the other.
But like everything else in life, the imperfection comes from our human engagement. That is, when we start messing around with stuff.
Since we (in Macon, Ga.) lost our minor league team to Rome, Ga., a few years ago, I guess the All-Star Game is my best baseball option tonight. It might even be fun to watch. Indeed, a lot of talent will be on hand.
Perhaps I’ll stick with it longer than the interminable home run derby last night.
At the least the All-Star Game is filler until the real stuff gets going again — when I’ll be looking for opportunities to catch as many games as possible in the big stadiums and small parks along the way.
[PHOTO: Friday night rain delay at lovely Coors Field in Denver, one of the best baseball experiences in America.]
[Now for matters of greater interest and substance, keep following Tony Cartledge through the Holy Land at this link.]