The New York Yankees will be well-represented at next week’s All-Star Game in Kansas City. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson were all elected as starters to the Midsummer Classic. CC Sabathia was also chosen for the pitching staff, but won’t pitch because of his groin injury and current status on the disabled list.
In addition, Cano, the winner of last year’s home run derby, was named American League Home Run Derby captain. The title enabled Cano to choose this year’s home run derby squad. He supplemented himself with Prince Fielder, Jose Batista, and Mark Trumbo. They’ll be going up against the National League’s Matt Kemp, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Gonzalez.
Many people, myself included, feel that the home run derby is far more exciting than the main event. To its credit, Major League Baseball attempts to make the All-Star game relevant and consequential by awarding the winning league home field advantage in the World Series.
The problem with that prize, however, is twofold. For one, team season record ceases to matter in terms of home field advantage for the World Series. Last year the Texas Rangers were a full six games better than the Cardinals, and the Cardinals had home field advantage because of an exhibition game played three months earlier. The Cardinals, after barely squeaking into the playoffs via a wild card upset over the Braves, ended up winning in seven games on their own turf.
Second, many of the players attending the All-Star Game are on teams that have no shot of getting to the World Series. For them, there is little incentive to play hard and act like it’s a “real” game. Take Joe Mauer, for instance. The Minnesota Twins catcher missed half of last season because of injury. Why would he risk putting himself back on the DL in an inconsequential game for the cellar-dwelling Twins?
What ends up happening then is that players decline to attend the All-Star Game. Last year eight Yankees were selected, either through fan voting or as reserves or pitchers, for the AL squad. Four—Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, and Alex Rodriguez—did not attend for various reasons, some better than others. Controversy erupted when Jeter opted out mere days after collecting his 3,000th hit.
And we get the sense that often times players would rather have the three days off than make the trip, as though it’s a tremendous burden. As fans, this is insulting.
Each year, all the negative hoopla surrounding the All-Star Game makes “snubbed” players– like Johan Santana and the Reds’ Johnny Cueto—feel increasingly more like they weren’t asked to the dance by the ugliest girl in school; it’s kind of a relief, and you can find better things to do with your time. For the only thing the fans have any control over whatsoever, this is sad.
The unofficial hero, at least for the Yankees, of last year’s All-Star festivities was Robinson Cano. Watching him hit a barrage of homers off his dad was both heartwarming and entertaining. The next evening, I’m pretty sure I turned my TV off well before the sixth inning.
And I wasn’t the only one. Last year the game garnered its worst ratings ever, with only 11 million viewers.
The solution? If you want the fans to care, the players must care first.