84th MLB All-Star Game

MLB All-Star Game’s continued irrelevance could be saved by going international


MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – You might not be old enough to remember this, but Battle of Network Stars used to be a thing. Every now and again, a bunch of television “stars” – let’s just put “stars” in quotations because it wasn’t like Johnny Carson was out there – would gather together in some fairly exotic location like Hawaii and compete in various “sporting” events.

Yeah, we need to put “sporting” in quotations too because while they did have some actual sports in there like swimming and cycling, they also had pseudo-sports like tug of war and an obstacle course and so on.

It was entertaining at the time, partly because we were so starved for something resembling sports on television that we would watch anything, and partly because Howard Cosell was the announcer, and Cosell was incapable of lowering the volume or intensity for trivial competitions. With Cosell, everything was at least as important as the Super Bowl or the seventh game of the World Series. So you would hear him shout things like, “One thing you have to say about Patrick Duffy is that he’s a COMPETITOR!” or “Robert Wagner doesn’t know the MEANING of the word quit!” Sometimes it seemed Cosell got the irony. And sometimes, it seemed, he did not.

Point is that we as a country used to love stuff like that. Superstars competitions. Battle of the Network Stars. Battle of the Sexes. Match races. All-Star Games galore. You know, every year an all-star team of college football players would face against the Super Bowl champion. It is a very funny thing to see a young person discover THAT for the first time. Their faces go pale, and their eyes widen, and they sputter, “They … they … they … DID WHAT?” There are so many baffling things about the old College All-Star exhibition – injury risks for young players, injury risks for old players, absurdity of a Super Bowl team actually playing a bunch of college kids – that they don’t know where to begin.

But we can begin here: We don’t care about pointless games now. We just don’t. And the range of pointlessness has expanded – we don’t care like we did about horse races that are not the Kentucky Derby, track events that are not the Olympics, boxing matches that are not for some sort of championship. We’ve replaced all of that in the American psyche with stuff at least tangentially connected with sports we DO care about – stuff like the NFL Draft and recruiting and free agency and those viral stories of the day. We’d rather talk and tweet and text and argue about where LeBron James will sign or what nutty thing Johnny Manziel will do next than watch sporting events that don’t count.

And that brings us, yet again, to the All-Star Game.

Well, every single year we write about how much the All-Star Game has lost. Last year, about 11 million people watched – one-third of the audience from 1982, one-half of the audience from 1994, thirty-one percent down from five years ago. But perhaps the most sobering fact was reported by Sports Business Journal: The average age of the All-Star Game viewer was 53. That would be a five followed by a three.
Whenever I am in the younger demographic of a television audience, you have real problems.

Well, the All-Star Game just doesn’t make sense anymore. It made sense when few baseball games were on television and the opportunity to see the stars play was magical. It made sense when the American and National Leagues were truly separate – before interleague play, before free agency, before easy travel between the leagues, before teams switched leagues – and so the only time you might see Johnny Bench face Jim Palmer was in the World Series or All-Star Game. It made sense when we CARED about meaningless games just for the enjoyment of the moment.

All that stuff is gone. Bud Selig’s rather desperate effort to attach meaning to the game by having it determine World Series homefield advantage hasn’t added anything at all, largely because it doesn’t matter to anyone now. It won’t matter to anyone for months, and even then it will only matter to fans of teams actually in the World Series. And for teams in the World Series, it will seem impossibly stupid to have homefield advantage determined by some single in the eighth inning by an All-Star pinch-hitter off an All-Star middle reliever.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about it: What can be done to make the All-Star Game matter again? It’s still an amazing opportunity for baseball – the All-Star Game still has one of the best stages in sports. It’s a Tuesday night in July when NOTHING ELSE is going on. And, weirdly enough, I started thinking about lessons the All-Star Game can take from the Home Run Derby.

It’s weird because: I very much dislike the Home Run Derby. Almost everyone I know does. It’s a terrible event live. It’s a terrible event on television, viewed through the prism of Chris Berman shouting “back-back-back.” The Derby is repetitive and dull and generally annoying.
BUT … it does something the All-Star Game does not. It sticks in the mind. I was thinking about the Home Run Derby the last decade or so and found, to my utter shock, that memories flooded back. I immediately remembered Josh Hamilton’s home run barrage as he was completing a comeback that blew the mind – that was inspiring. Bobby Abreu hit a billion homers one year, that was pretty amazing. Ryan Howard … Prince Fielder … Vlad Guerrero … I remember these moments pretty vividly. I remember Robinson Cano winning with his dad pitching. I remember Robinson Cano flailing helplessly as Kansas City fans booed him for leaving hometown hero Billy Butler off the Derby team.

Then, I was thinking about All-Star Game memories from the last decade: I came up completely empty. I could not think of a single one – and I’ve BEEN to almost every All-Star Game in the last decade. The last vivid memory I have from an All-Star Game was the 2002 tie game calamity, more than a decade ago. And I’ve BEEN to the All-Star Games. Before that, I remember them stopping the game in the middle to honor Cal Ripken.

So why is the Derby more memorable to me (and the numerous others I asked) than the All-Star Game? I think it’s simply this: It’s completely different. The All-Star Game is just another game, one of 3,000 or so that will be played this year if you count spring training and the postseason. Yes, it has the best players (or some reasonable facsimile), and yes it has great history with Ted Williams’ game-winner and Bo Jackson’s bomb to center and Pedro Martinez’s two thrilling innings of strikeouts and whatever. But, in the end, it’s a meaningless game. And we don’t have any time for such things.

The Home Run Derby, for all its many flaws, is DIFFERENT. Same thing with the dunk contest, which is better than the NBA All-Star Game. It acknowledges that people have changed, that it isn’t enough to just get together a few familiar stars and have them play a game for no real purpose. We don’t watch sports like that anymore.

So, it’s really simple: Baseball can keep playing the All-Star Game as is, and fewer people will watch every year. Or they can learn from their own history and figure out a way to make the game memorable again.

* * *

OK, since you asked, here’s what I would do to make the All-Star Game matter again: I would put together one Major League Baseball All-Star Team and have them play a game against a Japanese League All-Star team.

Yes, of course there would be some logistical concerns. But there are so many good things about this game that I don’t even feel like there’s a need to sell it … but here are just three:

1. It would bring back some real meaning to the game. The thing about the old All-Star Game was that players used to feel some sense of pride for the league they played. The National League was older and more established, the American League was the upstart. Then the National League was much more active in integration, while the American League moved slowly. Then the National League won a bunch in a row. And so on. Now, nobody CARES what league they play in. Heck, the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers happily swapped leagues.

But if you had MLB against Japan … you better believe players would care.

2. The Japanese Leagues are obviously much, much better than people generally seem to believe in America. It’s obvious because in recent years players like Ichiro, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Koji Uehara and so on have become mega-stars in the big leagues. It would be so good for baseball to get the leagues closer together.

3. The All-Star Game would become a world-wide event in a way that it is not now. Baseball does not celebrate its worldliness as much as it should. There are several different languages spoken in every clubhouse. The best players bring new cultures and new styles into the sport. It’s funny; baseball’s championship has been called the World Series for 100 years, but in many ways the world was not invited. I think you begin by bringing in a Japanese All-Star Team, but over time you could add players from Korea and China and Latin American countries. Make it the World All-Star Game.

Anyway, it’s just one idea.

Zack Greinke deal “could come soon,” Dodgers and Giants lead the bidding

Zack Greinke
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Jordan Zimmermann signed with the Tigers on Sunday for five years, $110 million. David Price signed with the Red Sox on Monday for seven years, $217 million.

Two big dominos have fallen in this loaded free agent market for starting pitchers, and another big one is about to go …

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal says a deal for Zack Greinke “could come soon” and it’s currently “Dodgers vs. Giants” at the top of the bidding ladder.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick confirms that both the Dodgers and Giants are looking for an answer from Greinke, adding that the 32-year-old right-hander seeks a five- or six-year deal with a greater average annual value (AAV) than what Price just secured from Boston. That number would be $31 million, so we’re talking something close to $32 million through 2020-2021.

Greinke opted out of the remaining three years and $71 million contract with Los Angeles in October after posting a 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP across 222 2/3 regular-season innings in 2015. He finished second to the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta in the National League Cy Young Award balloting.

The Red Sox get their ace! Boston signs David Price to a 7-year, $217 million deal


Multiple reports circulated in the past week that the Red Sox would need to unload the money truck in order to sign David Price. Well, the truck just got unloaded: Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reports that the Red Sox have signed David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract.

This is, by far, the largest free agent contract the Red Sox have ever given a pitcher. It beats Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210 million deal signed last offseason as the largest ever free agent pitcher contract. Clayton Kershaw‘s contract extension with the Dodgers was for $215 million.

Price went 82-47 with a 3.18 ERA pitching in the AL East while with the Tampa Bay Rays. After being traded to the Tigers just before the 2014 trade deadline he went 13-8 with a 2.90 ERA in 32 starts. He returned to the AL East with the Blue Jays this year, going 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts. He also pitched in the playoffs for the Jays starting three times in four overall appearances.

The Red Sox were in dire need of pitching and they were said to be gunning for Price to fill that need. Target: acquired.

Major League Baseball’s annual drug testing report has been released

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MLB and the MLBPA just released the annual public report from the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program’s Independent Program Administrator. It’s the annual report, mandated by the JDA, which says how many positive drug tests there were, what the drugs were, etc.

The notable numbers, which cover the period starting when the 2014 World Series ended until the 2015 World Series ended:

  • Total number of tests administered: 8,158. 6,536 of them were urine tests, 1,622 of them were blood tests for HGH;
  • 10 tests resulted in positives which led to discipline: 7 for PEDs, 2 for stimulants, one for DHEA;
  • The previous year there were 7,929 total tests with 12 which resulted in discipline;
  • There were the same number of Therapeutic Use Exemptions granted this year as last: 113. All but two were for attention deficit disorder. One was for gynecomastia, which is the swelling of the breast tissue in men due to a hormone imbalance, one was for a stress fracture in someone’s elbow.

A use exemption line item which had appeared on the list for the previous several years — hypogonadism — was not there, so congratulations to the anonymous player who was either cured or who retired.

As we always note, the number of players who got exemptions for ADD drugs is a bit higher than the occurrence of ADD in the population at large and, once you eliminate kids from ADHD occurrences, it’s likely considerably higher. But that’s none of my business.

Twins sign Korean slugger Byung-ho Park to four-year contract

Byung-ho Park
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With a week remaining in their exclusive negotiating window to sign Byung-ho Park the Twins have agreed to a deal with the Korean slugger. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that it’s a four-year, $12 million contract, on top of which the Twins will pay Park’s old team a $12.85 million posting fee for those negotiating rights.

Four years and a total commitment of $24.85 million is certainly a sizable investment, but it’s significantly less than most projections had the Twins spending to get Park under contract.

Last offseason the Pirates bid $5 million to negotiate with Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang and then signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal. His success in MLB raised the level of interest in Park, who posted similarly spectacular numbers in Korean, but in the end the price tag wasn’t significantly higher. Based on reports from Korea, it sounds like the Twins low-balled him in negotiations and Park basically just accepted it because he wants to play in MLB.

Three weeks ago I wrote a lengthy breakdown of how Park could fit into the Twins’ plans when they secured the high bid, but the short version is that he’ll slot into the lineup as the starting designated hitter and look to prove that his exceptional production in Korean can carry over to MLB. Park hit .343 with 53 homers, 146 RBIs, and a 1.150 OPS in 140 games for Nexen this past season and has topped a 1.000 OPS in each of the past three years.