Every sport’s All-Star Game features the best players. What’s made baseball’s Midsummer Classic unique, and many would say the best showcase around, is that you get to see things you wouldn’t see in an ordinary game, while the game still remains true to itself. Last night we saw the American League win again, 5-2.
Other sports might be closer than you think. The NHL has dialed up the uniqueness by going to a mini-tournament of 3-on-3 games, but loses its tie to regular action. In NASCAR, the All-Star race is a ton of fun because it’s got a smaller field than the weekly races, and the stage structure and exhibition status mean that you see more all-out racing, but it also generally plays out like any other day at the track — the same top drivers are racing each other, just, like, more.
The main thing about baseball has always been the matchup of the American and National Leagues, meaning you’d get to see matchups you wouldn’t ordinarily get. All of the NBA and NHL teams play against each other during a standard regular season, and while there’s some allure to seeing stars play alongside each other, there’s also international play for that, and with free agency, you wind up seeing a lot of star combos anyway.
When the All-Star Game began, it was the only place to see the AL vs. NL outside of the World Series. Free agency eroded that a little bit, but it really started to fall apart with the advent of interleague play in 1997. At the beginning, interleague was a special break from the regular schedule, a few weeks a year of, “hey, check this out,” but then in 2013, the Astros moved to the American League and having an odd number of teams in each circuit necessitated daily interleague. The All-Star Game’s special feature was further watered down, and at this point, especially after last year’s geographical schedule, it basically means nothing.
There was curiosity, if not demand, for interleague play, and you can argue that the game needed to evolve in that direction. It still probably does need to move further that way, to a fully geographic realignment, but that’s an argument for another day. But at least you can see where that bit of the All-Star Game’s charm waning happened organically.
Last night was an unforced error, a craven cash grab that baseball inflicted upon the world with the help of Nike, in the form of some of the ugliest uniforms ever to hit the diamond. From the vertical three-letter abbreviations, to the monochrome American flags, to the highly unflattering cut for larger gentlemen, to the use of Atlanta colors in a game that was moved to Colorado, to the god-awful hats and even worse batting helmets, they were an unmitigated disaster from head to toe.
The hideousness of the uniforms was just the tip of the iceberg. What baseball really did on Tuesday night, by going through with making Joan Rivers roll over in her grave, was to take a sledgehammer to one of the best features of the All-Star Game: players wearing their regular uniforms, standing together with their rivals, united by either home whites or road grays during player introductions.
Beyond being tradition, it works so well in baseball. Try to imagine a moment like Alex Rodriguez ceding the shortstop position to Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001, and Joe Torre waving Ripken over from the dugout, but instead of men from different teams paying homage to a legend, they looked like characters from a third-rate Nintendo game.
Not only does it work in baseball, it only works in baseball, because of the spacing of the players. The NBA tried having players wear their regular uniforms for a few years around the turn of the century, and it was horrendous to watch, just too many colors weaving in and out.
MLB blew it with this one, but it’s also time to admit that the things that once made the All-Star Game so special, in some cases, no longer do. The way that the game has evolved, it’s not the best against the best in the biggest situations late in the game. It’s the reserves playing the crunch-time innings, in batter-pitcher matchups that maybe you’ve seen, maybe you haven’t, but either way, they aren’t capturing the imagination.
The way to fix it is to abandon the AL vs. NL format, perhaps in conjunction with that eventual geographic realignment. An All-Star draft isn’t a novel idea, as every other sport has done it, but it works to give fans what the Midsummer Classic once featured so prominently, the matchups you’ve never seen before — in this case, teammates. Imagine a game where Shohei Ohtani pitches to Mike Trout, or Fernando Tatis Jr. slugs a triple and shares a laugh with opposing third baseman Manny Machado, or Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso hitting back-to-back in the same lineup.
Just let them all wear their own uniforms for the game, and never speak of what we saw at Coors Field in this game. Please.
The United States won a men’s basketball game, 108-80 over Argentina. That doesn’t make up for losing to Nigeria and Australia, but it sure does ease a lot of worries after opening Olympic tuneups after those two duds.