Tonight will be the first All-Star Game in 14 years that won’t decide home-field advantage for the World Series (thank goodness), and with the freedom of again having a true exhibition, MLB has the opportunity to get experimental, if it wants. Bryce Harper has a plan:
“It’d be great if let’s say the two leading vote-getters by the fans did a draft system and could pick from both sides,” Harper said Monday. “So I could be facing Max Scherzer today — I mean, nobody sees that. It would be a lot of fun to do something like that to make it a little more competition to face somebody on your team, like if Kershaw was facing Justin Turner, or Chris Sale facing Mookie Betts. That’d be a lot of fun.”
This year, for example, Harper’s proposed fantasy draft format would see him and Aaron Judge, the two leading vote-getters, taking turns selecting their teams. I can see the appeal to that, especially in the example Harper gives about letting fans have the opportunities to see players face off against their own teammates. Baseball offers one-on-one matchups in a way other sports just don’t, and it would be legitimately interesting to watch a team’s ace try to strike out its best hitter.
But those matchups would be relatively few, and the occasional novelty wouldn’t make up for abandoning the league-vs.-league format, which has actual meaning. Baseball is the only sport where the leagues play under different rules, and there are real bragging rights involved, even among fans. (I believe American League play is a superior product with superior players, and I feel genuine pride when the A.L. wins the All-Star Game.) Like, who gives a shit about the AFC vs. the NFC, or East vs. West? Those aren’t materially different styles of play, merely arbitrary (or geographical) distinctions. Baseball doesn’t need to change its format.
Besides, we’ve seen the fantasy draft concept before. The NHL broke it out in 2011, and while the draft itself made for sporadically entertaining TV, it wasn’t interesting enough to keep up and the league abandoned it after three editions. The NFL also tried a draft format for the Pro Bowl, but reverted after three years.
Really, the only league where an all-star draft might work is the NBA, because it’s such a personality-driven league, and its players amiable enough (and its fans so versed in the various interpersonal dramas that drive them) to carry the show. Basketball, too, features enough one-on-one moments that there’d be value in seeing teammates face off against each other. Plus the East is trash.
MLB’s All-Star Game is fine. Don’t mess with it. It’s already the only one worth watching.