The Pick-Me-Up Baseball’s All-Star Game Needs


Baseball should follow the path of other All-Star games in recent years. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Dylan Balsamo

American sports are wrought with spectacles, and this has become especially true in last two decades. From the grandeur of the Winter Classic to the NBA Draft Lottery to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the line between professional sports and entertainment is often blurred. That is because they are arguably the same thing.

This past Sunday in Charlotte was the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. The annual event had a new format this year that proved incredibly successful, and more importantly, incredibly entertaining. Following the recent trend of a true “pick-up game” mentality, the game was played by teams formed in an All-Star draft between captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The game was expectedly high scoring, with Team LeBron coming out on top 178-164. The game was the perfect ending to an eventful and exciting All-Star Weekend, a set of festivities basketball has made its own including the Slam Dunk Contest, the Celebrity Game and other events.

This weekend, the NBA has given itself three days of entertainment not only for its own financial gain, but also for the betterment of its loyal and ever-growing fan base. The television ratings for the game itself have been consistent over the last five years, and it would not be a stretch to gather that with this new format, the ratings for this year’s game will see a bit of a bump. Since James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers will almost guarantee that we will not have a fifth straight Cavs-Warriors matchup at season’s end, the ratings for the NBA Finals will probably increase too. The NBA is keeping things exciting.

The idea of a “pick-up” All-Star Game, of course, came from the NHL, who in 2011 scrapped the traditional East vs. West format for their game to allow two players to draft teams out of the All Stars, a format that worked well, kept the game entertaining and arguably made the Skills Competition more interesting. That format worked for a little while, and when it proved to grow old, hockey kept rolling with the times.

The 2016 game in Nashville saw a radically different approach to All-Star Games. Instead of two teams there were four, players were selected to represent each of the league’s divisions, and the teams faced off in a 10-minute knockout tournament before the winner was decided. This format is different, and it has proven successful in terms of television ratings and fan approval.

These recent games have truly shown hockey’s ability to appease their fanbase. The first four-team All-Star Game was also a shining moment for John Scott, a fan favorite from the Arizona Coyotes who was by no means an All-Star caliber player. In fact, he was mostly an enforcer for Arizona, and he was demoted back down to the minor league AHL after winning the fan vote. Still, he won that fan vote, nevertheless, and the NHL did just what the fans wanted and allowed him to participate and play, giving him a generic NHL logo jersey to play in and the same introduction as any other player. Scott then went on to score two goals for the winning Pacific Division and was eventually the game’s Most Valuable Player, exactly what the fans wanted to see. Hockey is doing it right too.

Now, the NFL has tried the fantasy draft format for its All-Star Game too, but not even that idea could provide salvation for their abysmal January football game. However, that’s more than okay, considering the game that takes place a week later is enough of an American cultural phenomenon that many consider it a social gathering and national holiday on the same scale as New Year’s Eve.

What the NBA, NHL and NFL have remembered is what sports truly are in the first place. Sports are entertainment. ESPN is the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. Entertainment comes first. Sports is the business of entertaining the fans, because without them, there would be no reason for professional sports to exist in the first place. So it is not only smart but also absolutely necessary for these leagues to be doing what needs to be done to keep the fans happy.

So, let’s examine that other American sport: baseball.

Major League Baseball’s All-Star game is not only the oldest of the major sports leagues but also so glowing in history and lore that the league has been reluctant to make too many changes to the event, especially its format. One of the best things the league has done with the game was in 2017 when home field advantage in the World Series was determined by the winner of the game. This allowed for managers and players to be more lenient with giving the fans the teams they want to see and allowed the television broadcast to be closer to the gameplay. With personalities being on the field in between innings and players to be mic’d and interviewed while playing. The game is just more fun to watch.

But even with this important change, the MLB All-Star Game’s television ratings hit an all-time low this year, not even against the less-than-threatening competitor of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Obviously it is time for a shake-up for the game and its format, because even if baseball has its loyal followers, staying the same will not bring the shifting viewer demographics back to the Midsummer Classic. Maybe a fantasy draft instead of American League vs. National League? Maybe another skills competition to complement the Home Run Derby? Who knows what the answer is, but it is not sticking with the past.

When it comes to all-star games, the fans have spoken, and the other leagues have answered. Hopefully, baseball will soon realize that this form of entertainment needs a “Conan-like” retooling.