We interrupt our normal coverage of people getting hit by pitches and other generally useless stats to bring you an idea. It might not be new, but I don't remember ever reading it and certainly haven't seen it brought up recently. So, you heard it here first, unless you heard it someplace else before.
The 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is a week away, and everyone seems to agree that it's not the big deal it used to be. The mistaken assumption from MLB was that the players didn't care about it enough to play hard, or show up in some cases, so they had the idea to give home field advantage in the World Series to the winner. Bud Selig is probably the only person left who thinks that idea worked, or was a good idea in the first place. The point isn't necessarily to make the game meaningful, but to make it interesting I think. To make it something you talk about and remember from year to year, rather than a hole in the middle of the season when most people are just interested in seeing their team get back to its schedule and its playoff race, or its trade rumoring, or its dramatic talk-radio fueling front office ineptitude.
But here's how we can make it interesting and fun and open up all kinds of discussion and debate (without even adding an All Star HBP contest, which would obviously be brilliant, but still not help improve the game itself). Keep voting for starters and selection of reserves the way it is now - that's not a problem. Keep voting by position and by league and the "final vote" gimmick, and the selection of reserves by manager. That's all fine. Then Monday night, the night before the game, maybe before the home run derby, we bring all the All Stars out into the infield, with the American League manager and the National League manager, and grab the top vote getter from each league. So this year it would be Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols. An Umpire hands them a bat, and they do the hand over hand thing - and the guy whose hand lands on the top of the bat knob gets first pick. At this point, other than the AL leading vote getter being paired with the AL manager, all league loyalty is out the window, and the Captains choose team school yard style. Just one by one, until everyone has been chosen. If one team ends up with 5 shortstops, so be it - we can make fun of the captains for the next year for picking such a dumb team. And to correct any serious roster imbalances, they have a day to work trades with the opposing team, and if the league has to push a trade to make sure each team has enough pitchers and catchers that's fine.
Think of the drama of the selection process - would players pick their friends and teammates first, or would they go all out to win, picking the best players regardless of personal loyalty? Would intra-team rivalries be exposed, like maybe if Alex Rodriguez were involved this year and Jeter passed him over in favor of Youkilis? Would a captain make a bold statement against his front office by picking a recently departed form teammate over the high priced free agent brought in to replace him? Who would be the last player picked, and would that moment ruin his career, or inspire him to make the game winning hit or shut-down relief appearance? The captains would be able to consult their teams' manager, but otherwise they'd have to wing it standing out their on the field in front of a full house. If they don't notice that Pedroia is hiding behind Ryan Howard and they forget to pick him, there will be no do-overs. And if they pick an unbalanced roster, and can't fix it with trades, leaving a couple of guys playing out of position, that's all the more fun for us to watch. Given how much the baseball fan world loves fantasy baseball and the idea of drafts, and just mixing up the teams to make your own, I think this event of choosing up sides for the All-Star game would bring in fantastic TV ratings.
And the buzz created with potential blockbuster dream trades between the team selection show and the game the following night would be epic. Blog server farms would burst into flames throughout the country.
Also, think of the marketing potential. All-star jersey's are pretty generic from year to year - they change them, but do most people really identify them with anything? But in my version of the 2009 game, instead of National League jerseys and American League jerseys, we'd have specially design ones for Jeter's team and Pujols' team. They probably know the leading vote getters far enough in advance to produce specific jerseys like that, and perhaps even include fan voting for the team name. So you could get your 2009 Jeter's Juicers jersey or 2009 Pujols Enhanced Performers jersey, if those were the names fans voted for instead of ones that are funny insted of just sarcastic and cynical. Even if they just went with "Team Jeter" vs "Team Pujols" it would still be more memorable than the AL vs NL thing, and maybe 5 years from now you'd see one of those items of merchandise from this years game and clearly remember the year Jeter's team played Pujols' team and how interesting it was to see Joe Nathan close the game by shutting down Justin Morneau, because that's just the way the teams were picked. Then again, maybe Nathan would grove one for his teammate for a game winning walk-off and refuse to admit it in the post game, while creating a career long feud with whichever player was his team captain. The potential for drama is so far above the current formula, it couldn't be contained by a hundred fiberglass Metrodome roofs.
One possible option would be to have the team captains be voted on separately, which could give the league the chance to put the captaincy up as a lifetime achievement award (endorsed by the fans voting) for guy in their retirement years, or special situations like that. Having Pujols as captain when the game is in St. Louis would be such a nice touch, they might want to encourage a home team captain every year by including a home team all-star in the voting options each year.
The specifics can be adjusted if needed, but the most important feature is just letting the group of guys pick teams the same way they would if it was a bunch of kids on a vacant lot. None of the other oft-debated features of the game would really matter after that. They could keep the World Series home field tie-in if they wanted to, and leave the DH rules the way they are, because we'd all be busy dissecting the guys each captain picked, and the order in which they were picked, and which teammates got split up. And at least their would be two players - the captains - who would probably be pretty competitive about who won or lost the game, since their name would be forever associated with that all star team.
I think this would make baseball's All-Star game easily the best All-Star game in sports, at least until the NBA puts in an all-star game rule were each basket is scored on style points. So if anyone is working on a plan to kidnap Bud Selig in the near future, please make this one of your demands. And if he seems open to it, push for my dream of the All Star Hit by Pitch contest.