All-Star games: an idea whose time has passed

Two of sports’ four major all-star games were played Sunday, and it strikes me how unimportant they’ve become. Is it time to do away with all-star games, or change the formats?

In the dark ages before cable television, the all-star games were rare chances to see the faces we often knew only from our baseball or football cards come alive for a few hours on the television screen. Now, of course, not only do we have games on cable, we have DirecTV and highlights and channels devoted specifically to our favorite sports. So the all-star games have lost some luster.

The Pro Bowl has long been a yawner, although moving it up to the dead Sunday between the conference championships and Super Bowl wasn’t a bad idea. The players clearly love the idea of going to Hawaii, especially those who haven’t spent the regular season playing in domes. And who can blame them?

But the game, by virtue of being played without members of the two Super Bowl teams, does not include some top players. And I know very few people who don’t find it boring.

So is there a way to keep the trip to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl honor, which seems to matter to the players — ask London Fletcher — but make the game more interesting? Or do we need a game at all? We already know these guys can play; they were chosen for the Pro Bowl. You don’t want to see them head off into their vacations with torn ACLs and concussions. And you won’t, because all you see is offense. This year’s score: AFC 59, NFC 41.

What about a day of skills competitions instead? Gets the players out of their helmets and pads and humanize them a little bit for television viewers. The players still enjoy Hawaii; the fans could enjoy seeing the players cut loose a bit. No one cares much about Pro Bowl stats, anyway (except, for today, Brandon Marshall).

And speaking of no defense, we come to the NBA and NHL all-star games. The NBA game is legendary for including absolutely no defense. That’s fun for about 15 minutes (real time, not game time), but again, the NBA skills competition is a lot more fun.

The same is true in the NHL, which gets some credit for trying to jazz up the all-star game by having team captains pick sides, like kids at a frozen pond. But no matter how the teams are chosen, on the ice the game is the same: lots of offense, no hitting (and there shouldn’t be).

When your all-star game doesn’t resemble your regular season product anyway, why not change it? Why can’t the designation of all-star be enough? Then present a skills competition or whatever you want, but mix it up.

More and more, we’re seeing players skipping the all-star games for a variety of reasons: injuries (real or trumped up), age, whatever. Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne, both 41, pleaded age as an excuse.

This happens in every all-star game, in all sports. When your own players don’t want to participate, is there a problem with the game?

Baseball’s all-star game is the only one with any relevancy, although it’s a sort of faux relevancy thanks to the rule change that gives home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the midsummer classic.

Of course, I somehow doubt Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard was thinking, “Win this one for the St. Louis Cardinals, who are likely to be in the World Series in four months against the Rangers!” when he picked up the All-Star win in July. Or maybe he was. In which case we need to get him to Vegas before pitchers and catchers report.

But baseball’s biggest advantage is that it is almost never a contact sport. Even when the managers revert to Little League thinking and empty their benches and bullpens, there is little chance of injury. The NFL, NBA and NHL cannot say the same, not if their players play the way they played to get into the all-star game in the first place. That’s the problem that needs to be fixed to make these games more relevant — and more watchable.

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