All-Star Boondoggle How to energize the All-Star contest: Dump the real game, embrace the X-Games
On July 15, 2008 the final All-Star Game to ever be played at the original Yankee Stadium provided a sentimental House-that-Ruth-Built farewell and a decent, if not brutally long game, but baseball should say good-bye to this All-Star boondoggle.
Interleague play and television have rendered baseball’s midsummer game largely useless, notwithstanding the arbitrary and illogical World Series home field advantage that is awarded to the victorious league. Big money players would rather rest than risk needless injury, and the fans are bored with contrived play. It is time to dump the game itself and re-energize players and fans with more X-game flair that is good for baseball—and business. After all, it was the July 14 home run derby that just became the most watched cable show of 2008.
When baseball’s first All-Star Game debuted in Chicago on July 6, 1933, no one had television, cities with one team never saw players in the other league, no one made millions, the regular season was only 154 games, the post-season was a month shorter, and neither the players nor their tinderbox bats were as fragile as Tiffany toothpicks.
Though hardly riveting, baseball’s All-Star contest is admittedly less boring than most because there is little drop-off in how the game is played. Basketball’s counterpart is a monotonous track meet, and football’s irrelevant Pro Bowl is mind numbing. Hockey fans seem to enjoy the NHL offering, but its overall ratings are anemic.
Enough already. All-Star teams should be named, honors given, and the actual games relegated to posterity. In recent years the NBA and Major League Baseball have discovered the real secret to all-star success: X-Games. The slam dunk contest, three-point shooting matches, and baseball’s home run challenge have stolen the main stage. Why? Visual one-on-on drama plays well on television, especially when it is driven by supercharged players who are eager to win bragging rights over each other. In short, these contests are both fun to play and fun to watch.
But the traditional All-Star Game has become what Sunday church was for Tom Sawyer: drudgery. The wacky X-games are much more Huck Finn: energetic, mischievous, chip-on-the-shoulder double-dares. NFL football has enjoyed great success propelled by a well-oiled team-oriented machine, but the Pro Bowl is reduced to simplistic plays and gripping indifference. The best way to improve it is to stop it. Meanwhile, both commissioners Stern and Selig have discovered the true golden goose of mid-season NBA and MLB charm—yet do they fully realize the all-star value of what they have?
Trash the game; it is unnecessary. Build on the home run contest, and make it better. Add a prize for the longest home run so that guys who fall behind have something to swing for and the fans have something to watch. Inject a game of “horse” into the NBA mid-season festivities. How cool to watch Gilbert Arenas, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, and Chauncey Billups in a trash talking head-to-head game for bragging rights. Or see which MLB players can hit a female fast-pitch flame thrower, or maybe challenge outfielders to throw a baseball through a small hole for a million bucks. The NBA might consider a leaping contest to see which NBA stars can actually jump the highest—the possibilities, and endorsement opportunities, are many: witness the highly anticipated Charles Barkley versus Dick Bavetta foot race during the 2007 NBA festivities.
When baseball’s first All-Star Game was played as part of the 1933 World’s Fair, it was dubbed the Game of the Century. Babe Ruth clubbed a 2-run shot in leading the AL to a 4-2 win before 49,200 fans jammed into Chicago’s old Comiskey Park, a crowd that paid 55 cents for bleachers and a whopping $1.65 for box seats during the gut of the Great Depression. Since it isn’t even the game of the week anymore, how fitting to end it all in the twilight of a shrine originally built to showcase Ruth himself?
In this era of reality TV, X-games, and ultimate fighting, fans are eager for creative sports entertainment. And with High-Def TV, plasma perfection, surround sound, on-field cameras, and dazzling wide-screen imagery, everyone can virtually be there—so why waste it all on a boring game?
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Eldon L. Ham is the sports legal analyst for WSCR Radio in Chicago and is an adjunct professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law where he has taught Sports, Law & Society for over 15 years. He has been nationally quoted in such venues as the New York Times, USA Today, Business Week, Chicago Sun-Times, Washington Post and many others. His articles have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Trial Magazine, Seton Hall Sports Law Journal, Marquette Sports Law Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of three sports related books including The PlayMasters—An unauthorized history of the NBA, and his latest: Larceny & Old Leather: The mischievous legacy of major league baseball.
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