Simply put, there’s no easier punch line in sports right now than Major League Baseball. Whether it’s their stubborn stance on instant replay, their archaic refusal to post videos on YouTube, or Frank McCourt cracking open his piggybank to try to make this month’s payroll, the hits just keep on coming. You make fun of Major League Baseball. I do it. Ultimately, we’re all guilty.
At the same time, to their credit, the MLB has at least been proactive in one area: They’re always tinkering with, and improving their All-Star Game.
While the NBA slogs along with a mostly boring dunk contest that few care about (except when Blake Griffin is jumping over cars) and the Pro Bowl brings as much entertainment value to the table as an episode of Franklin and Bash, baseball’s Midsummer Classic is still, to a large degree, a classic. Since the infamous “tie of 2002,” (which was inarguably its lowest point), baseball has done quite a few things to make the event better. They’ve expanded All-Star rosters, let fans vote on the final player onto each team, and allowed certain guys (most notably pitchers who throw on Sunday) to be replaced, all in the hopes of making things more entertaining. Bud Selig doesn’t do a ton a right, but damn it, at least he’s trying.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the All-Star Game can’t be improved in at least some regards.
Here are 10 Ideas I came up with.
1. It’s Time To Overhaul The Home Run Derby:
When you really think about it, the Home Run Derby is just about the strangest event in sports. The whole thing ebbs and flows like one of Mel Gibson’s mood swings, and in the process leaves fans in a strange emotional state where they’re concurrently on the edge of their seat, and at the same time, bored out of their minds. Name me one other sport or event that does that. You can't (Well, except for NASCAR I guess). And you know why? Because really, there are only so many ways to see oversized grown men, hit a small white ball over a fence.
Apparently Major League Baseball has realized that as well, since they changed up the format this year. For the first time ever, “captains,” were appointed, who selected their own teams. Which is kinda cool, I suppose. At the same time, can you name more than a guy or two that will be in tonight's Home Run Derby without looking it up? Me neither. Which means that whatever PR push the MLB was hoping to get from the format change, probably hasn’t happened.
So here’s my suggestion. Instead of making it American vs. National League, why not get the band back together, grab Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmerio (with Jose Canseco as an alternate), and turn the event into “Past Greats vs. Present Stars.” Or as fans might prefer to call it, “The Juicers vs. Non-Juicers.”
I love this idea for a few reasons.
One, baseball is all about honoring their history, and for better or worse, those guys are all a part of history. You can’t open the history books without seeing Bonds’ name as the career home run leader, and love him or hate him (and his evil mustache), Palmerio is, and always will be part of the 3,000 hit club. So rather than letting those guys anguish in disgrace in their dark basements, why not bring them back, and give them a chance to restore a bit of their dignity. Hell, if they’re feeling really frisky and want one more chance to clear their names, let them pee in a cup. It’s not like fans won’t be interested in the results.
Most importantly, the All-Star festivities are supposed to be about entertainment. To which I have to ask: Would you be more likely to tune tonight to see Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista go against Rickie Weeks and Matt Kemp? Or Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds? That’s what I thought.
However, if for some reason that couldn’t happen…
2. Here’s Another Home Run Derby Shakeup:
Ok, so it might be unlike we get Bonds, McGwire and Sosa to particpate. Maybe they can’t, or maybe their lawyers simply won’t let them. It’s not my place to ask the tough questions. But even so, that doesn’t mean we’ve got to get rid of the Derby all together, or worse, go back to the old way of doing things.
Instead, I’ve got another idea. How about we make it pitchers vs. position players?
Sounds terrible right? Well there’s a catch. Instead of taking their normal batting stances, the position players have to hit from the opposite side of the plate than they’re used to. That means natural lefties have to hit righty, and vice versa. Switch hitters are banned from the event.
Again, let me explain why I love this.
Understand that if you’ve never spent time around a baseball team (and I have) there is nothing that pitchers love more than to take batting practice. Stick a Louisville Slugger in their hand and most pitchers act like Charlie Sheen at the Cadillac Ranch; essentially, they can barely control themselves.
As for the position players, while they might be hesitant at first, let’s see what happens if they fall down early in the event. You don’t think if Prince Fielder were trailing Cliff Lee heading into the last round he try his damndest to win the event? You don’t think he’d go down hacking like a girl if his pride were on the line? These are professional athletes after all, none of them want to look like idiots on national TV.
3. It’s Time To Get Rid Of The Celebrity Softball Game:
Don’t get me wrong, I love Meatloaf as much as the next guy. Same with Nick Jonas, and the chick who plays Robin Cherbotsky on How I Met Your Mother. I just don’t want to watch them trying to turn a 6-4-3 double play. That’s all.
Which means that yes, it might be time to scrap the Celebrity Softball Game. I’ve never watched, and don’t know anyone who has. If anything, I feel like if people do flip it on, it's only as something monotonous to fall asleep to. Which might make it a better alternative than Lopez Tonight, but not by much.
Either way, it’s time to get rid of the Celebrity Softball Game. And I’ve got a replacement for it…
4. A Skills Competition:
And not like the hokey one at NBA All-Star Weekend with the WNBA players. Instead, I’m thinking more like what the NHL does, where they measure the fastest skater, the hardest slap shot and stuff like that. Again, there isn’t much Gary Bettman does right, but the NHL All-Star Skills Competition is definitely one of them.
So why can’t baseball do the same? Why couldn’t they clock the catcher with the fastest throw to second base? Or see who has the most accurate outfield arm? Or watch Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Jose Reyes (if healthy) race to see who the fastest man in baseball is?
At the very least isn’t that all the more entertaining than a Celebrity Softball Game? I swear, if I have to see Chelsea Handler playing catch in the outfield with Chad Ochocinco one more time, I might lose it.
5. In Regards To The Actual All-Star Game, Let’s Vote “Closers,” Not Starters:
I know, I know, this isn’t an original idea. ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons has proposed this before, and I’m sure 100 others writers suggested the same before him.
But at the same time, let’s get real here. When Selig decided back in 2003 that the winner of the All-Star Game got home-field advantage in the World Series, the stakes changed. It was no longer good enough to just let the best players play for a few innings and send them to the showers. Not when a potential World Series championship is on the line, and a pitcher from the Marlins and batter from Royals were deciding it.
Nope, so instead, let’s tweak how we run this thing. Fans still vote for their favorite players, but with a new catch. Rather than Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Braun starting the game, they instead come in starting in the seventh inning, and play until the final out. After all, the NBA would never stick LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on the bench in crunch-time, so why should baseball be any different?
Let the best players play, and let them play when it counts.
6. Let The Guy Who Caught Derek Jeter’s Home Run Ball Throw Out The First Pitch:
Quick side story: As soon as Derek Jeter got hit No. 3000 on Saturday, my buddy Brian texted me and said, “Can’t wait to read your article on Jeter.” Unfortunately for him, there isn’t one coming. Quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve got any interesting perspective or opinion on him, at least not beyond the “A good guy who did it the right way,” story angle that every other sportswriter has beaten to death. Thanks, but no thanks.
But while I don’t have much to say on Jeter, I’ve got plenty to say on the guy who caught his home run ball. Mainly that you sir, are an idiot.
With all due respect to Christian Lopez (the guy who caught the ball), I simply don’t understand why he gave up a piece of baseball history, that is literally worth hundreds of thousands on the open market. After all, he paid the same price as everyone else to be in Yankee Stadium Saturday, and once Jeter’s home run went over the fence, he had as much right to keep it as anyone else, including Jeter. Ultimately that ball wasn’t Jeter’s property anymore than it was his.
Of course while I don’t agree with Lopez’s decision, I do have to admit that it was damn commendable for him to hand it over (especially when Lopez admitted Sunday that he’s got hundreds of thousands dollars of student loans to pay off). And he should be rewarded for it.
So again, to honor Jeter and honor the game, why not fly Lopez out to Arizona, and let him throw out the first pitch of the All-Star Game? Maybe we could even line up Jeter as the catcher. What’s the alternative for the first pitch, another old-timer that no one cares about?
Besides, it does only seem right to let Lopez to live out his full 15 minutes of fame. After all, I suspect that in about a week, he’ll fade into obscurity and become no more or less important than he was at this time last week. Unfortunately, that’ll probably be the same time that he realizes, “Oh my God, what have I done?”
It might be nice to give him one positive memory before he sinks into a full-fledged depression.
7. Move The Futures Game To Wednesday:
Full disclosure: I honestly, really enjoy the Futures Game. Name one relevant player from the past decade, and chances are they’ve played in the event. Josh Hamilton did. Miguel Cabrera did. Same with Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano and C.C. Sabathia. Much like the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Futures Game is a cool place to see “the next big thing,” before they’ve actually blown up.
Unfortunately, baseball has also sabotaged the game by playing it on the Sunday before the All-Star break. Really, why would anyone tune in to see “Not quite big leaguer’s,” when actual big leaguer’s are playing. Doesn’t make total sense to me.
So as far as I’m concerned, why not just move the game to Wednesday? The day after the All-Star break is literally the slowest sports day on the calendar, and even though ESPN is putting the ESPY’s on this year, at the very least it’ll give us something to flip around to. It’s never a bad thing to have options, but with the way the Futures Game is set up now, we’ve got too many options. Like 15 Major League games going head-to-head with it.
However, if for some reason they can’t move the game to Wednesday, why not…
8. Put The Futures Game MVP On The Regular All-Star Roster:
How cool would that be?
For one, I feel like it’d make the actual Futures Game that much more entertaining. It’s not like guys aren’t trying hard now, but imagine if a roster spot in the big-game were on the line? Dudes would diving for ground balls, jumping over fences, and trying to turn singles into triples. Again, I’m never against anything that makes athletes play hard, or makes an event more entertaining for fans.
Speaking of the fans, wouldn’t it give the Futures Game an almost “Christian Laettner on the Olympics Team,” feel to it? As in, how would the MVP fit in with the regular All-Stars? Would he look like he belonged? Become totally googly eyed? Become the next in a great line of stars who played before him? Or would he flame out like Todd Van Poppel or Brien Taylor, and never be heard from again?
I’d be eager to find out.
9. Get Chris Berman Off The Home Run Derby Telecast:
“Back, back, back, back, back….” Yeh, shut the hell up dude. Everyone hates you.
Speaking of which…
10. Get Tim McCarver and Joe Buck Off The All-Star Game Call:
Can’t we figure out a way to get Gus Johnson into the mix?
Also for his continued take on all things sports, and updates on his articles, podcasts and giveaways, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android Phones)