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Can We Really Make It Count?


Over at the Boston Globe's Extra Bases blog, Peter Abraham who, in my humble opinion, does a good job covering the team, has a piece up about the All Star Game entitled, This Game Counts?

Mr. Abraham:

Something has to give. MLB can't say the game counts and then play it like a company picnic softball game. [...] Inform the subs that playing time is not a right. Their union signed off on the "this game counts" silliness. The price you pay is not everybody gets to play. If it counts, Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez need to get more than two at-bats.

The idea that home field advantage is determined by an exhibition game is ridiculous. But the game hasn't always been played the way it is now. Take, at random, the 1958 All Star Game. In that game ten American League hitters got up to bat or about the same number that see plate appearances in your average AL regular season game. Contrast that with last night's "company picnic softball game" which saw twenty players hit for the AL. The game has evolved into what it is now.

It was always an exhibition but for what ever reason, be it league pride (fewer players switched leagues before free agency), financial need (players back in the '50s needed winning bonuses much more than today's players), or something else, the level of seriousness attached to the game itself has dipped in the past decades.

In fact, this whole "it counts" garbage is a direct reaction to the drop in seriousness with which the game is played. Nobody takes the NBA or NHL All Star Games seriously because the players themselves don't play the game seriously. Baseball is/was concerned that their game was headed in that direction and so we get the implementation of this ridiculous idea, something which should have been laughed out of the room upon introduction.

One way to go is to recognize the way the game is evolving and allow it to do so organically. People still watch and sponsors still write checks so no harm no foul, right? Maybe. But for now, MLB has decided to try to increase the level of seriousness, to make it more like a regular season or playoff game. This is fine in theory, but it gets us into a tough position. There is no way to force players to play in the game. It's an exhibition game and no amount of marketing or silly ideas will change that. If the AL wins, fine, but it won't help or hurt the Red Sox unless and until they make it to the World Series and even then only if the series goes seven games. The reward is remote and of questionable value at best, and non-existent at worst. In the case of most players there is no reward at all.

This leads to players and teams not really caring who wins or loses. Case in point, Josh Beckett last night. According to the Globe, Beckett didn't pitch because his knee wasn't feeling, "quite right." Beckett also said if it was a "regular game" he could have pitched. No amount of jiggering with the rules, compulsory attendance, or altering the selection process is going to change that fact. Nor should it. Would you want Beckett to pitch in the All Star Game if his knee was bothering him? The risk clearly, so clearly, out-weighs the reward that it's a ridiculous question. 

So we soldier on with this game because it's a cash cow. But it's a cash cow with no real significance in the realm of the baseball season. That's fine, but trying to force it to be significant is ultimately a waste and only succeeds in making those in charge look bad.