All-Star Break

Tuesday, July 13 2021 @ 09:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

Baseball still has the best All-Star Game, although the tall foreheads who run the game have been doing their level best to remove all its mystique.

For those of you who've forgotten, let me review exactly why baseball has always had - and should still have - the best such exhibition.

First off, forget the NFL. No one cares about football after the championship has been decided. Granted, I barely care before but that's neither here nor there.

Baseball's all-star game is far better than the NBA and NHL all-star games, which at least are also staged in mid-season. And that's because it looks like real baseball. With a zillion substitutions, true - but what's actually happening on the field looks exactly like regular baseball.

But in the NHL and the NBA, two things happen and they happen in both games. First of all, as played in the modern age, both sports depend hugely on defensive systems, on team defense. This stuff goes out the window when the game is being played by players who never play together. In the NBA all-star game, you can't take 5 guys at random from 5 different teams, and expect them to rotate smoothly on defense. This applies, although probably not quite as much, in the NHL - where certainly every club also has a defensive system that they attempt to practise.

In addition, in both the NHL and the NBA, an "exhibition-game" mentality is in place. Which in these cases, means we're going to have a non-contact game. No hard fouls, no smearing someone up against the boards or giving them a two-hander in front of the net. This is why you get NBA all-star games where the losing team might score 150 points, and NHL all-star games where the losing team might score 8 goals. It doesn't seem at all like a regular game, let alone a well-played one, let alone one involving the best players in the league. It looks like a pick-up game.

Baseball doesn't have these problems. There are aspects of team defense to baseball, but it's not that complicated. Teams pretty much figured out how to relay throws from the outfield in the 1880s. Middle infielders turning a double play involves a pretty minimal level of team work. Most of what we know as defense in baseball takes place on the pitcher's mound; the next most important item is an individual player's ability to react quickly and properly to a ball put in play. These guys are all members of the same team, but what they do at specific moments often does not at all require what we generally think of as "team work."

Finally, baseball is a non-contact game most of the time anyway. There are really only three opportunities in the game for contact and collision: 1) a fielder making contact with some part of the stadium, like an outfield wall: 2) a thrown baseball making contact with the hitter; 3) a baserunner making contact with a fielder. These really aren't large parts of the game, anyway. They do happen quite regularly in regular play, and sometimes they can be very significant. But we don't miss them when they're not around. Their absence doesn't distort the game, the way the lack of physical defense completely distorts a hockey game or a basketball game.

Everybody is just playing, and everybody is still competing. Everyone wants to show that they deserve to be there. The pitchers still want to get the hitters out, the hitters are still trying to get a hit, the fielders are still trying to make a play. And that's baseball. That's almost all there is to the game at any time.

This mere exhibition game has provided some of baseball's most famous and legendary moments - Carl Hubbell and Fernando Valezuela fanning the best hitters the other league had to offer. Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson hitting home runs. Dave Parker throwing from the outfield, Pete Rose running the bases. Bo Jackson being Bo Jackson. An exhibition game!

Baseball's All-Star Game used to have a mystique. Players who never played against each other during the season would meet just this one time every year. Bud Selig put an end to that with inter-league play. Which has its own appeal, I suppose, but the All-Star Game hasn't been quite the same since. And this year - they're wearing special All-Star uniforms?  Players wearing their team colours was one of the cooler things about the game, something you could never do in hockey where stuff is going on so fast that the players on the ice think of their teammates as "guys wearing the same colour." And now, special uniforms? Up with this I will not put.

Ah, let's face it.  It's just the All Star Break now, a chance to take in gimmicky productions like the Home Run Derby (I await the introduction of additional skills competitions), a time to pause and reflect on what happened in the first half, look forward to the second half.

I'm just an Old Fogey moaning about the way things used to be, and how change of any sort is a rebuke to my continued existence. Shamelessly recycling my own greatest hits.