If recent history is any guide, somewhere between 55 and 60 players will see action Tuesday night. The game will be preceded by a red-carpet parade through the streets outside Chase Field, all of it televised and tweeted. And, as has been the case since 2003, the winning league will earn home-field advantage in the World Series.
But the all-star game also arrives here at a crossroads of sorts, facing declining television ratings (last year’s game drew the lowest in history) and a growing feeling within the sport that the game has become too unwieldy and too unsure of what it wants to be. The very meaning and purpose of the “Midsummer Classic” appear open to interpretation.
Eight years after Commissioner Bud Selig decided to tie home-field advantage in the World Series to its outcome, there remains a disconnect between the modern all-star game’s two overriding purposes: to bring together the game’s best and most popular players as a showcase for the fans, and to decide which league gets to host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series.
Is it a meaningless exhibition, or a meaningful competition with significant stakes? Baseball’s answer would be: “Both.”
“I don’t view it as a problem,” said Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Payers Association. “It arises from the positive aspects of the all-star game. It’s an actual game that resembles real competition. We just have to keep finding the right balance.”
For now, that balance finds the respective managers — San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy for the NL, Texas’s Ron Washington for the AL — trying to simultaneously manipulate their substitutions to allow as many players as possible to get into the game, while also trying to win and possibly secure home-field advantage in the World Series for their own teams.
One recent, lamentable trend has been to populate the rosters with semi-obscure setup relievers (no offense intended to Washington Nationals setup man Tyler Clippard, the team’s lone representative) and role players, in the hopes of gaining an advantage for one at-bat in the late innings. At the same time, baseball also insists upon perpetuating the rule requiring every team to be represented.
While a total of 68 players will dot the two all-star rosters Tuesday night — selected via a convoluted process that includes fan voting, player balloting and managerial picks — no fewer than 84 players will have earned the designation of “all-stars,” with all the attendant contractual bonuses and historical implications. Of the 16 players who withdrew after being named to the respective teams, the majority pulled out due to injuries; in addition, five pitchers were disqualified by a new rule preventing pitchers who start games on the Sunday before the all-star break from appearing in the all-star game.