I noticed this contest a while back, and I thought to myself, "Hey, self! This would be a great Friday Five for right before the All-Star Game! Just list your top five All-Star Game memories, and you're set for another week."
But as I thought about it, I realized, "I don't HAVE any tremendous All-Star Game memories."
Don't get me wrong, I like the game, and I can remember watching many of them over the years, where I was, whose company I shared, etc. Yet those moments don't reverberate throughout me the way, say, a big postseason moment does. The recollections are more pleasant than passionate.
And that's the problem with the All-Star Game. It doesn't inspire passion. Even now, with the World Series home-field advantage tied into it, an innovation I happen to like, there isn't much discussion of the games ex post facto in the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best). The term "water-cooler television" might be outdated, but the concept absolutely still exists.
So what can the Midsummer Classic do to become water-cooler TV? I humbly submit these ideas:
1) Change the roster construction process
OK, here's the derivation of this one: Jayson Stark, on Twitter, solicited suggestions concerning this issue. Joel Sherman read one of Stark's re-tweets of a fan, and Joel liked it so much that he told me about it. And here we are.
A tweep of Stark's named Brian Rosenwald suggested this:
"3 division leading GMs pick players. Teams managed by league-leading mgr w/ most incentive to win."
Love it. What better way to ensure a roster full of engaged, interested players and managers?
I'd miss the fan balloting for the starting lineups, but it's a worthwhile sacrifice. You'd be telling the fans, "Look, we love ya, but this game is really going to be played for keeps now." You could throw the fans a bone and maintain the "final roster spot" Internet ballot that has become very popular and propelled Paul Konerko and Shane Victorino to the big game this year.
2) Decrease the rosters
Each team has 35 players. Thirty-five! Good Lord. The culture has changed to where the starters know they'll get two at-bats and they can be in the air, on their private jets, by the time we hit the seventh-inning stretch.
The irony of the current structure is, the better the game it is, the more likely the game's most valuable player will be a lesser-known star, since the big names are long gone in the late innings.
Let's make it 26 players - like a real, major-league roster, plus the one extra via the fan vote. It's up to the GMs how they want to break it down with pitchers versus position players, although I'd think they'd stock up on pitchers just to make sure they don't work anyone too hard.
In any case, the majority of the starting position players would understand that they'd be committing to playing the entire game. The contest would take on a more serious air if we didn't witness a flood of substitutions every inning.
3) Eliminate the "at least one representative from each team" rule
Sure, this could have been folded into number two, and for that matter, number two could have been folded into number one. But we call it the "Friday Five," not the "Friday Three."
This alteration, too, would help create a more serious atmosphere. You wouldn't have charity cases, for lack of a better term, on the roster. We'd eliminate that awkward question, "This team is so bad, who is going to be the mandatory All-Star?"
This year's rosters aren't as offensive as other years' - Kansas City's Aaron Crow and the Cubs' Starlin Castro, both chosen by MLB, are probably the most questionable selections - but it's just an unnecessary rule, one fueled by an antiquated notion of "All baseball is local," to borrow from Tip O'Neill. The Internet renders that moot.
We'll make one allowance: The host team should have a player. Most years, that wouldn't cause anyone to blink; Arizona's Justin Upton is extremely worthy this year, for instance. Others, like next year in Kansas City, there could be some blinking. But we'll tolerate it.
4) If you pitch Sunday, you can still pitch in the game
This would reverse a recent rule, and sure, I get the current regulation. I'm the guy who's in favor of pitch counts and innings limits and who thinks it's generally crazy to commit to multiple-year deals for most pitchers.
But when you do the cost-benefit analysis of this rule, it sure is costing baseball a lot. This year, the following All-Stars are scheduled to pitch Sunday: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, James Shields and Justin Verlander. So none of them will pitch Tuesday night. And CC Sabathia won't be chosen as a replacement because he, too, is pitching Sunday.
What a shame. They really can't handle throwing at most one inning on Tuesday? For most or all of them, Tuesday would likely be their throw day, anyway. Let's throw caution to the wind just a tiny bit.
5) Better pre-game ceremonies
Remember, we're talking about the All-Star Game as TV programming. About stuff that will compel people to watch it. And the pre-game ceremony of such a big event carries huge potential.
The Yankee Stadium salute to George Steinbrenner in 2008 fell flat, as we've discussed here, simply because not enough fans had any idea what was occurring.
What MLB needs to do is have ceremonies so good - like Williams in '99 or Mays in '07 - that they run on highlight shows, thereby creating expectations and anticipation for the subsequent year.
Some locales are challenging, unquestionably, while others, such as Boston and San Fran in the past, arrived with obvious themes. This year's host, the Arizona Diamondbacks, don't have the kind of history with which to work that others do. But how about something like a tribute to great pitchers - Sandy Koufax? Bob Gibson? Greg Maddux? Roger Clemens (kidding)? - culminating in the appearance of former Arizona studs Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling?