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Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade — No. 25: All-Star Game no longer counts

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We’re a few short days away from the dawn of the 2020s. So, instead of counting down the Top 25 stories of the year, we’re taking a look at the top 25 baseball stories of the past decade.

Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most over the past ten years.

Now that our honorable mention is out of the way, let’s get to number 25: The All-Star Game no longer counting

Once upon a time the All-Star Game mattered to those who played it. At least a little bit. The American League and National League were wholly separate and, in the days before free agency, there was far less player movement. Way more guys would spend their entire careers in one league or the other then than now. There was more league pride at stake. The NL wanted to beat the AL for its own sake and vice-versa.

For the fans there was built-in interest as well. Due to the lack of interleague play and far, far fewer televised national games, fans of an NL or AL team were far, far less likely to see players from the the other league. If you lived in, say, Detroit in the 1960s, when were you ever going to be able to see Hank Aaron or Willie Mays? If you lived in Philly in the 1980s, what were the odds that you’d ever get to see Robin Yount or Rickey Henderson?

Between free agency and interleague play that dynamic began to break down in the 1990s and with cable packages and on-demand games on the Internet, it was all but gone by the turn of the century. By then the All-Star Game had transformed into a true exhibition whose participants often didn’t even want to be there or who treated it like a big party. At some point along the line, All-Star managers took to making getting everyone a chance to appear in the game their top priority, and the ever-expanding All-Star rosters would be all but cycled through by the time the ninth inning rolled around and lesser All-Stars would figure in the outcome far more often than the big, big stars voted into the game by fans. Really, no one cared.

That lack of caring led, inevitably, to an embarrassing situation: the 2002 All-Star Game that, infamously, resulted in a 7-7 tie, declared as such by Bud Selig, who was caught for posterity in all of his exasperated and embarrassed glory, arms up and shoulders shrugged when he realized there was nothing he could do.

In reaction to that, Major League Baseball tried to make the All-Star matter again, declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would be decided by the outcome of each year’s All-Star Game. “This year it counts!” the slogan went. That system was in place from 2003-2016. And both the slogan and the idea of the All-Star Game determining home field advantage was widely and rightfully mocked. Mostly because it was seen as an insult to fans and players that something as important as that was decided by something as unimportant as the All-Star Game.

Take 2008, for example, that year Braves second baseman Dan Uggla committed three errors in a sloppy, 15-inning National League loss to the American League. The Phillies managed to pull out the World Series that year, but imagine if they hadn’t, and Uggla was subjected to a career-defining bit of ignominy as a result. It just always seemed like an ill-advised system hatched to spare Bud Selig further embarrassment like he experienced back in 2002.

Thankfully, the idea was scrapped in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now the All-Star Game, again, decides nothing. And, beginning in 2017, the regular season — the games that actually mattered — determined home field in the World Series instead of a coin flip or some alternating-between-leagues thing or from something as dumb as the result of an exhibition about which everyone ceased to care a good 30 years ago or more.

So if the All-Star Game no longer matters and no longer counts, is there anything we can do to make it relevant at all?  Maybe history can show us a way.

The first All-Star Game was not, actually, the 1933 game which launched the annual series we have today. It was in 1911. That was a benefit game for the family of the Cleveland Naps pitcher, Addie Joss, who retired in 1910 due to a bad elbow and then died unexpectedly in April 1911 due to tubercular meningitis. It was just an American league affair, with players from the eight junior circuit teams converging on Cleveland for the game. It raised the modern equivalent of about $350,000 to cover Joss’ medical bills and to help provide for his family. Pretty noble, eh?

The 1933-present version was conceived by a Chicago newspaper editor after the mayor approached the paper for ideas of a big sporting event to serve as an attraction for the 1933 World’s Fair, which was taking place in Chicago. A baseball game was the winning idea. In addition to the Fair promotion, the game was seen as a morale-booster for a Depression-scarred country and, like the Addie Joss game, had a philanthropic purpose, with proceeds from the game going to a charity for disabled and needy major league players, of which there were no small number back in those days.

The current All-Star Game is surrounded by a number of secondary philanthropic efforts — community outreach and charity auctions and things — but the game itself is just a big circled date on the Fox Network’s calendar and one of the larger line-items on Major League Baseball’s income statement attributable to those broadcast rights sold to Fox. Maybe if that changed and, instead, the game was given some off-the-field purpose it once had, the apathy over the game might go away?

Feel like we’ll never find out.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES:

Honorable mention: Astros Sign Stealing Scandal

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.