I really don't like baseball's All-Star game very much. It's fun to see the stars get together, but it's typically not very representative of the league's best players, and you don't really get to see player's personalities (minus maybe the Home Run Derby). But after this year's fantastic NHL All-Star Weekend, I thought we could explore what makes their weekend so much better, in my personal opinion. And rather than just complain, we'll also look at how MLB can improve their showcase of the league's best talent.
1. Player selection and fantasy player draft: I was really up in the air on this before it happened, but I have to say, the NHL got this just right. Besides Phil Kessel sitting out there last, though he did get a car out of the deal. The players genuinely seemed to enjoy the process; fans even got to see inside many players' personalities. The fans still got to select some players to the festivities, and the league selected the remainder of truly deserving players. So although teams like the Penguins and the Blackhawks got a lopsided share of the fan vote, the league stepped in to make sure other deserving players made the cut.
MLB should consider a similar format. The fans could select a portion of the representatives, and then the league can step in to pick out the people who have had an outstanding first half, not just by name recognition. I understand that the Yankees and the Phillies often have the most respresentatives because they're among the best teams, but it'd be nice to see things a little more equal.
Then, pick captains based on host city and seniority, and draft teams for the weekend. Baseball has a lot of free agent action and a very active trade market between the American and National Leagues. It could make for some very diverse teams and a great way to show the players' personalities.
I read this after I already finished this post, but the folks over at FanGraphs did a great job of a mock MLB draft, a la NHL Fantasy Players Draft, for the ASG. Check it out here.
2. Skills competitions: I don't think there's much debate here. The NHL SuperSkills Competition is simply outstanding. Players are judged on all aspects of the game, shooting accuracy, shooting speed, skating speed, passing, finesse, and goaltending. The MLB All-Star Game has the Home Run Derby. That's it. That's basically the league saying, "all we care about is home runs" (See: Steroid Era). But if baseball wants to move past the Steroid Era, let's show that they actually care about more than how hard you can hit a baseball.
Why not do a base stealing competition for speedsters, a hardest pitch competition for pitchers, a fielding range competition for position, a longest toss competition for outfielders, or even spitball throwing competition? Who doesn't wanna see Michael Bourn against Carl Crawford in a foot race around the bases? Or see Jayson Werth throw a ball into a bucket at home plate from the outfield? There are so many opportunities that MLB is missing out on here.
3. "This one counts.": To me, this is the worst part of the game. Players should be out there having fun. Pitchers playing with different pitches to see how silly they can make hitters look. Batters should want to kill the ball every time. They should be relaxed and having fun. These players have to give 100% effort 162 times a year. Why not give the players one chance to goof off during the season in a game setting? Furthermore, it totally negates the incentive to have the best record in baseball, as long as your league wins the All-Star Game.
Baseball gets a few things right though, including the Final Vote. It's nice to give a few players a shot at the end of the official player selection process, a play-in vote if you will, to have the fans get the final say. But it'd be better if those fans didn't do all the selecting of position players from the start. The fans could really let the league know where they left someone great out.
So these are just a few thoughts about how MLB can improve the All-Star experience for both players and fans. What say you, readers? Leave your thoughts on the MLB All-Star Game in the comments!