Column: What to do about the All-Star game?

Every year I watch, every year I hope and every year I am disappointed.

As has been the case for the past few years, the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star game became the MLB All Star exhibition.

Yes, the Cal Ripken Jr. scenario tugged at the heartstrings, but that’s where the problem with the All-Star game begins – he didn’t even belong there. Ripken was voted in to start the game by the fans despite having a horrible first half of the season that rivaled Vinny Castilla’s. And then Tony Gwynn gets invited as a “special addition” to the National League roster, further saturating the teams with players that shouldn’t be there.

But that’s how MLB wants things to run the Midsummer Classic. They want it to be a game for the fans. They want it to be a showcase between the National and American Leagues, but the rivalry between leagues just isn’t what it used to be. In the 60s, 70s and into the 80s, winning the All Star game was about bragging rights and pride. Remember when Pete Rose barreled over Ray Fosse at the plate in the 12th inning of the 1970 All-Star Game to win it for the NL? Or, after the National League had taken 19 of 20 from the American League, the jubilation on the AL side after Fred Lynn hit a grand slam off Atlee Hammaker en route to a convincing 13-3 win in 1983? Nowadays, what do you think the chances of gazillionaire Alex Rodriguez running over Mike Piazza for the winning run are? And that’s not even as much a shot at A-Rod, because there is no chance Piazza would even attempt to block the dish.

So what the All-Star game has come down to is an exhibition. The Home Run Derby and who won are far more interesting than the outcome of a game in which the starters play, at most, three innings. And the selection, or omission, of the remaining players is questionable, at best.

Baseball has the only format of the major All-Star contests in which the game played resembles the sport it attempts to celebrate. The rules for the Pro Bowl are altered, preventing blitzes and protecting quarterbacks, and it comes post-Super Bowl, so who cares? Basketball’s version is a joke because anything resembling defense is unconscionable. And there is the unwritten rule in hockey’s All-Star game that forbids checking and prohibits fighting. And hockey without fighting is as boring as NASCAR without the wrecks.

So what can be done? There were a total of 11 hits and five runs in the 2001 All-Star game. Excluding 1998’s slugfest at Coors Field, four out of the last six All-Star games have not totaled more than five runs. And one of those two exceptions was a 6-0 NL shutout in 1996. Low-scoring games that don’t really have any significant impact on the season just aren’t exciting. And pitching tends to dominate in the All-Star games, mostly due to fresh hurlers entering the game nearly every inning.

My suggestion is this: select fewer pitchers to the teams and let those selected throw in the odd innings. Then break out the “L” shaped pitching screens and let the batting practice pitchers throw the even innings. OK, this is a little far fetched, but why not? The focus has certainly shifted from winning to entertainment, so let’s combine the Home Run Derby and the All-Star game into one package.

But seriously, here is a more viable suggestion to spice up the Midsummer Classic: divide the game into the USA vs. the World. Hockey has already employed this format, but if MLB refuses to accept my idea of using a BP pitcher every other inning, this just might bring the competition back to the game. There are an abundance of international stars in the league right now and the possible matchups are intriguing. Imagine a battery of Pedro Martinez and Ivan Rodriguez facing Barry Bonds or Derek Jeter?

One year it could be in Mexico, the next in Yankee Stadium or Toronto. It would restore some pride in the teams and increase the competition level.

Otherwise, all we have to look forward to is the 2002 All-Star exhibition.

– Brandon Wright is a senior majoring in journalism