The majority of chatter surrounding the All-Star Game and its deficiencies seems to be concerned with format and meaning. Should it decide home field advantage? Should every team get a representative? Was it disrespectful for player X to skip the game? These questions grow tedious, particularly when Tueday’s game suggested a different way to expand the game’s relevance and popularity: showcase the players as men with actual personalities.
My favorite parts of this All-Star game? Heath Bell’s entrance. Chris Perez and Yadier Molina laughing after Molina’s double. Eric Karros interviewing players and getting them to say something more substantial than, “Just an honor to be here.” My favorite memories of the ASG growing up? Randy Johnson vs. Larry Walker. Randy Johnson vs. John Kruk. The young, first-time All Stars getting autographs from future Hall of Famers in the dugout. The rumors (have they ever been confirmed?) of Ichiro’s inspirational pre-game speeches.
The players as people, and their personal views of the game, is the route to making the All-Star Game better. I can determine the best players in the game by consulting leaderboards. It’s much harder to learn who the characters are, or why I should care about any player on teams I don’t follow. Health Bell helps my fantasy team (thanks, 8th round pick!) but I didn’t know he was a jovial guy with a sense of humor until the All-Star game showed me. Consequently, I feel more connected to him as a player (thanks, Heath!). These are the opportunities baseball should explore: the chance to expose local fan bases to other fan bases’ favorite players, and why they are those fans’ favorite players (besides statistically-measurable performance).
I see several avenues for pursuing this:
Structural changes. Give each city’s fans the ability to choose a player representative (an idea most recently championed by Joe Posnanski). If I didn’t live in Philadelphia, I wouldn’t appreciate Shane Victorino as much as I do. I want to know the Shane Victorinos from other teams.
Broadcast cooperation. Less commentators, more players commenting. Employ more player mics and find more opportunities for players to interact with fans at the game and watching at home. Let players interview other players. Eric Karros pushed Prince Fielder to talk in a way few TV reporters would dare. It’s probably impossible to get Roy Halladay chatty, but Tim Lincecum would be a cakewalk.
Union and team encouragement to loosen up. During the regular season, many players avoid colorful interviews or on-field antics because they want to avoid being a distraction, or being insulting, or offending Mr. Steinbrenner. Health Bell’s slide during the regular season would have induced a tsunami of rebuke. But I bet 90% of the players at this game loved it. I’m not suggesting we turn the ASG into the Dunk Contest, but union and owners can remind players that this game is for them and the fans. It isn’t the somber business of the regular season. Encourage the players to display, if they so choose, the excitement they claim to feel from being at the game.
Social media. Let one player from each team carry around a video camera that streams online, or to the national broadcast. Let players tweet and blog. The locker room is off-limits for good reason during the regular season, but why not show it for the ASG? I bet most All-Stars would not consider this greater interactivity a burden (and if they do, maybe they aren’t voted in next year).
Baseball is a joyful game, and the All-Star Game could and should do more to remind us of that. Most players, I’d wager, love playing the game. But one of the unspoken strings attached to their enormous salaries is that they not “upstage” the game with “unprofessional” behavior. This has deprived us the fans of a fascinating resource: the players’ unfiltered view of, and enthusiasm for, the game they play. The All-Star Game is a chance to tap this vein. I’m sure many players would welcome the chance to better engage with fans on that primal level, born in childhood, which makes so many of us grown men and women giddy when we see a baseball diamond.