By Mark Vasto
This time it didn’t matter — and nobody cared.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game has long been considered the best all-star game of all professional sports in America. While the NBA has carved out a nice little niche with the slam dunk competition, baseball’s midsummer classic, with its fan voting, home run derby and representation of players from every team, has managed to remain relevant during a day and age where it takes a straitjacket to get somebody’s attention.
They’ve played the game 88 times, and each league, the American and the National, has won 43 times and split two ties. The All-Star Game used to carry considerable weight back in the days before interleague play, which began in 1997. Up until then, you never got to see your favorite players square off, save for spring training or the World Series. While interleague play became a necessity out of common sense — the fans in St. Louis wanted to see the Yankees play at Busch Stadium more than once a generation — people were sure the All-Star Game would lose its luster.
Perhaps it was that fear that led to making the game “count” after the disastrous 2002 game, which was called a tie after 11 innings due to lack of pitchers. The powers that be championed a decision that had the winning league get home-field advantage in the World Series. It was a decision that was almost universally panned. For one thing, managers didn’t necessarily play to win the game anymore. They were more interested in getting the most participation from their bench. So baseball, nimble as ever, decided to revert back to making the game a simple exhibition again (after 13 years).
And what did this year’s classic teach us? That baseball is almost impossible to not play seriously. Every player seemed to be giving his all … the pitchers were bringing the heat (the average speed of a fastball in the game was 97 mph), fielders were diving after balls in the outfield and batters were hacking away at first pitches. In classic fashion, the game was won in extra innings when Robinson Cano hit a laser into the bullpen leading off the 10th. The night previous, Aaron Judge, the guy that everyone is pinning their hopes on being the next great player, hit 47 home runs in the derby … in the game, he went 0-3, striking out once, just like 23 others did that night.
Sports Illustrated did the math. In the AL’s 2-1 win, 79 players came to bat and 31 of them either struck out, walked or hit a home run, meaning 39 percent of the time, the ball wasn’t even put in play. That’s the way today’s game is played … every pitcher seems to throw 100 mph, every home run is of Ruthian proportions. In the end, just like this year’s All-Star Game, it didn’t matter: baseball is still something worth watching.
Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.(c) 2017 King Features Synd., Inc.