This week was Major League Baseball’s All-Star game with all its pageantry and side shows. Wouldn’t it be great if actually meant something?!?! In 2002, baseball officials added the incentive for the winning league to gain home field in that year’s World Series. It was a step in the right direction, but it hasn’t been enough to improve TV ratings, which were down again just like the past eight years.
So what’s the problem? Simply put, people think the game is a farce. If the baseball gods got serious about making the game stand for more than a mid season sideshow, they would get their wish for real customer support. Here’s how I would fix it.
The number one cause of the “All Star” game being considered a joke is that it’s not the best players playing. It’s nothing more than a popularity contest. Big names garner far more votes than recent, stellar play. If you want the game to have legitimacy, you have to start with the player selection process.
I do understand that the game needs to appeal and attract one of baseball’s most important demographics – the kids – who want to see the popular players. At a very young age, the all-star game was a big deal for me. To see Steve Garvey on the same field with Lou Brock battling the American League was magical. Remember, in the 70’s, there wasn’t interleague play or excessive player movement. The All-Star Game was a chance to see stars play with and against each other, something that would never happen during the regular season.
So here’s how I would structure the selection process.
- The fans would vote as they do now and the top vote getter at each position would start and play the first three innings. This will appeal to the East Coast kiddies who can’t stay up for much more than three innings anyway.
- The sportswriters would also vote, and their top vote getter would play innings four through six. If their player was already chosen by the fans, their second place finisher would be invited.
- The players and coaches would vote in the players to finish out the game. This group should know best who they would want to close out the game. If their choice was already selected, it would just go to the next vote getter.
As for selecting pitchers, this needs to be altered too. The fans can pick three starters for each league, the sportswriters would also pick three pitchers and the player and coaches would pick four closer types. Generally speaking, each pitcher wouldn’t pitch more than an inning avoiding overworking them and affecting their regular season rotation.
After all player selections are complete, I would still want to ensure that there was one representative from each team. I think this is important both from a fan and a league branding standpoint. For each team not already represented, that team’s manager would select one player based on performance for that year. The All-Star Game manager could use these players however they see fit as a substitute, a pitch hitter or designated hitter.
This brings me to another point. I am anti-designated hitter and even though this will sound like blasphemy, I think the All-Star game is a venue that actually calls for it, even in National League parks. If this game is about the best player in every situation, watching some pitcher hack away is a joke. Use an “all-star” caliber hitter at DH and make it the best against the best.
A Good Cause:
Now that we have legitimate rosters, now let’s give the players more incentive to win, beyond the World Series home field advantage which I would continue. I propose that each player will compete on behalf of their charity. Involvement with a charity is generally important to players, and especially important to the wives and families that direct these efforts. The winning team’s players would each get $100,000 for their charity and the losing players would only get $10,000. This money could be underwritten by a major sponsor(s) and MLB itself. To qualify, a player would actually need to show up and play, not just get voted onto the roster. Their charities would not only benefit monetarily but also receive valuable exposure from the mentions each time the player was featured. This would add incentive, create good public relations and would fit nicely with President’s pre-game call for community service. Some of today’s players, as well as MLB, could certainly use some character enhancement.
Three most valuable players – Offense, Defense and Pitching – would be selected from the winning team. There would be a voting committee would be made up of the manager and coaches from the winning team and one winning fan from an online sweepstakes. The three MVPs would each receive $100,000.
Of these three MVPs, there would be another vote, by the same committee, to name the overall MVP based on total performance in the game. The winner’s charity would have a sixty second commercial developed on their behalf, featuring the player and possibly his family. A $300,000 production budget would be underwritten by a sponsor or MLB and the completed spot would be unveiled by the player during the World Series. It would be shown several times throughout the Series and also posted at MLB.com and team websites. In addition, the contract with the All-Star game broadcaster would require that they air the spot nationally several times during non sports content to appeal to a wider variety of people. This would provide invaluable exposure for the charity and put the player in a good light.
Real Reality TV:
One sure way to improve ratings would be to add a bit of drama via a side story and some angst. In the spirit of reality TV, I propose that the winning team would determine the site of the following year’s game. One pre-approved city from each league would be in the running to host the future game. There would be a pre-game clip telling about each city and its offering to create a connection with viewers and to emphasize the importance of hosting. During the game, there would be live cameras on the cities’ mayors, the cities’ planning committee and certain local venues, i.e. bars. The world could watch their stress and elation as the game played out, interesting to even non sports fans.
So Commissioner Selig, it’s rather simple. Give the game meaning to the players, fans, non fans, nonprofits and future host cities and the customers will return. You can have my ideas free of charge… this time.