For avid readers (or readers who care) the message of “necessary evil,” is imperative. It can be a sharp justification or a grand partition of two schools of thought. Sometimes I agree with the former – the end doesn’t always justify the means. However, when it comes to the necessary evil of the accolade that is on the line in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, I can’t help but nod and agree with Machiavelli. We would all be much worse off if the Midsummer Classic was simply a game to show off and have a laugh.
The notion that a team’s seasonal grind is unnecessary is absurd, I get it. Many clubs press their players to focus on the singular ambition of obtaining the best record in a league so they can rest a little easier in playoffs – the time of greatest stress. The behemoth teams shell out millions so they can have the best record and have a slight advantage in the time of pure luck that is the postseason. Records are significant; that’s why they are notated. And in the game of baseball, home-field advantage means far more than in any other sport; some clubs have massive stadiums that they cater their entire team’s strengths on. Even alternating home-field advantage between the final two teams fighting for a championship every year seems reasonable, considering teams can be from vastly different leagues with a dissimilar level of competence; National League records are inflated because their competition is weaker than the monster that is the American League. The MLB All-Star Game makes the drudgery to scrape out every game in the regular season seem nearly needless, if the team with the most wins in MLB ends up playing only three home games in late October, simply because their league rivals failed to beat the other league.
However, the dilemma lies in the exhibition of a game’s stars. If there wasn’t a stipulation put onto the MLB All-Star Game, then the entire concept of an All-Star competition would be a waste. If the MLB All-Star Game didn’t count, then America would have the great distinction as the land without any exciting real fantasy sports competitions.
Gathering all the paramount athletes once a year is a lavish affair throughout Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and all other organized sport unions. Red carpets are common, minute-by-minute coverage of the entire gala is the natural, and juxtaposing history is required. An All-Star Game is a dream come to life – how often do we see the best players on the same team? – so the game itself should deliver the greatest yearly entertainment to those who watch this flight of the imagination.
Yet, it doesn’t happen. Despite all the glamour and hype the Pro Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, and the NHL All-Star Game bring – all the exposure and theories about which player is the finest among the best – none of these events deliver entertainment to make sports geeks wet their pants. Every year when the All-Star Games come around, we fans get dressed up and make sure we don’t ignore this, our rugged date. And what do we get in return? Not even a bit of appreciation. There are no tackles in the Pro Bowl, there are no standup blocks in the NBA All-Star Game, and there are no face-to-glass hits in the NHL All-Star Game. Everyone is simply running around, showing off their pulchritudinous faces, and playing the All-Star Game as if it is backyard ball. They don’t value the attention we admirers give them in these games. Yes, it’s the curse of contact sports that makes expo matches useless, but what’s the point of an All-Star Game, then? If not a single glamour game can deliver, then why should we throw our hearts into them?
The solution to such a quandary, of course does not exist; there will almost certainly never be all-out play in these three All-Star Games – and good for them; none of us want the Sidney Crosbys, the Andre Johnsons, or the Dwight Howards to be hurt in a demonstration match.
And that is why the MLB All-Star Game must have home-field advantage on the line: We fans must have at least one daydream night where our interest is returned in the form of pure entertainment and thrilling play.
Athletes can play harder in baseball All-Star Games than in basketball, ice hockey, or American football ones, but a game without purpose will create a stupor in the drive of the professional participants – even in baseball. Without something on the line, pitchers wouldn’t push themselves to be on-mark in their inning or two of work, batters wouldn’t hustle out of the box, and managers wouldn’t engage in this colossal chess match with nearly unlimited pawns; Without home-field advantage in the World Series on the line, Justin Verlander wouldn’t throw 100 mph in the first inning of a game, Tony La Russa wouldn’t worry that a knuckleballer starting pitcher could cost his team, and Chipper Jones wouldn’t force his feet to leg out a ground ball for a base hit. The MLB All-Star Game would never be as stirring as it was on Tuesday night without knowing your team’s October fate could be at stake, and that you have to put your faith in your adversaries. Never would one Sunday in early July gather so many families in front of a television screen to see the obvious mammoths of a sport be given an automatic honor, if they knew it meant they were simply going to scuffle around a few weeks later for fun. And never ever would an annual classic for MLB be bigger than an annual NFL classic if the fate of the playoffs weren’t up for grabs.
The MLB All-Star Game works like this. Pushing players to give their all in the display for fans was a genius move by Major League Baseball. It’s no risk and all the remuneration. Baseball players can play hard and not get injured, so why not make them push themselves completely? No big leaguer has to worry about tackling their off-the-field friend, dunk-breaking a hero’s nose, or shooting an eye out with a puck. Usually, the worst circumstance is the Terry Francona situation: Do I stretch the last player who is on my rival’s team, or do I instead let my own team suffer by being nice? Baseball is meant to be played hard with hardly any consequences, so why not push it to the maximum of tough play? If all the All-Star competitions in the world had such a shady provision behind it, then maybe the ends wouldn’t justify the means. However, in a world where the most interesting part of most All-Star Games is a skills contest, the MLB All-Star Game can be that single respite that actually serves its purpose of making fans drool over this mad vision – a dream team of players that no amount of money could bring together. Only an All-Star Game can do that, so why shouldn’t the fantasy be put into maximum drive? It’s one night of mad sports hypotheses brought to life; it can’t hurt anyone…if it’s baseball.