14 July 2008

2008 Home Run Derby

So...Alex Rodriguez is a selfish prima donna. That seems to be the big news about this year's Home Run Derby. ESPN's Jayson Stark blogged all about it today (access it here). My response? Get ready...here it comes...and, yes, you can quote me on this: "Yawn."

We've known for years that Alex Rodriguez could likely be clinically diagnosed a narcissist. There's nothing special about that fact. Stark complains that, since he refused to participate in the Home Run Derby, it left the HRD without a Yankee in Yankee Stadium. Atrocious! But, you know, the last time I checked, Derek Jeter was still a Yankee and still on the All-Star team. Does he post league-leading home run stats? No, but not every guy who has done so has made the All-Star team, anyway. And if Stark's problem is that there are no Yankees in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, then perhaps he should be frustrated that no one made an effort to rope Jeter into it.

The problem is that there are two ever-conflicting schools of thought about the All-Star Game, including the Home Run Derby. One school of thought suggests that the spirit of the events is simply to wow the fans; give the fans what they want. Clearly, the fans want to see Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter start at third base and short stop for the American League. The fans want to see a lot of towering home runs hit in the Home Run Derby. They'll get both.

The other school of thought is that, with home field advantage riding on the outcome of the All-Star Game, that this is no longer an exhibition for the fans. Remember, "This One Counts!" The problem is that players seem to want to complain that Bud Selig has unfairly burdoned them with this aspect, while simultaneously tying one hand behind the All-Star managers's backs by letting the fans choose in a popularity contest which players should start the game. And, yes, that argument has merit. But let's not overlook the impetus behind adding these stakes to the ASG: Players blowing it off because they would rather go fishing than play in the All-Star Game to which they had been voted by adoring fans.

What has changed? Precious little. Players may attend more than they would like, but now they seem to resist participating in things like the Home Run Derby out of spite. It's like a kid saying, "Fine. I'll go, but I won't like it." Most comments I've heard or read by players about the All-Star Game have been along the lines of wanting to get it over with and get back to their regular season. They're hoping their team's star pitchers don't get hurt by breaking their normal rhythms to pitch one inning. And, again, these are legitimate concerns.But what aren't the players saying? They're not saying, "This year, the National League will win one." Old school guys like Lou Piniella, who will be coaching the team this year, have expressed that interest, but not the players. Ever since the edict came down to tone things down following Pete Rose's mauling of Ray Fosse, players have approached the All-Star Game the way a driver approaches a deer in the middle of the road: They want to just get through it without any injuries and don't care about anything else.

Until baseball teams recruit more passionate players and cultivate a climate of passion for the game again, nothing Bud Selig's office decides will change the way these events go. Tony LaRussa had the chance to win last year's game, but refused to bring into the game his stud, the guy he loves having come to bat with his regular season games on the line. Manny Ramirez was nursing a sore something-or-other and thought it best not to play last year. The consequence? The American League won (yet again) and Manny's Red Sox got home field advantage in the World Series, no thanks to their star slugger.I say they need to restructure the All-Star Game dramatically. Here's how I would do it:

Round One: Players who wish to play submit their names for consideration. Only these players go onto the official ballot.

Round Two: Employees of Major League Baseball, from owners to players, from scouts to janitors, get to cast one ballot each, and fans get to vote twice: One paper ballot, one online. This idea of 25 online ballots does nothing but enable ballot-stuffing by rabid fans, and this is why this year's AL team has 2 Yankees and 3 Red Sox.

Round Three: From the cumulative vote, the top vote-getters at each position are the starters. The manager then has his choice of how to build the reserves, regardless of number of votes. For instance, if the top thirteen vote-getters are all outfielders, he should be able to disregard that fact to bring on a second firstbaseman, even if the second highest firstbaseman has much fewer votes than anyone else on the ballot.I would also not put the ballot out until mid-May at the earliest. Letting fans vote in April is stupid. They will most likely vote for either members of their favorite team, or members of their fantasy team, and few teams's rosters are the same by late May as they are in early April. Don't let anyone vote until enough of the season has been played to let fans really get a sense of the players for whom they are being asked to vote. Reds fans, for instance, didn't get a chance to vote for Jay Bruce except as a write-in. Other fans may have punched his bullet on the ballot, but they're much less likely to write in his name.

Additionally, I would do away with requiring a representative of each team. I would, however, mandate that the host city's fans would get to vote--on a paper ballot only, not online--for a representative of their team. This way, when Tampa Bay eventually hosts this thing, if they're not playing then like they are this year, they still get a guy on the roster. I would even be open to each league's champion team getting to send a player, too. So this year, for instance, Yankees fans would get to vote a Yankee onto the team since they're hosting, and the Rockies and Red Sox would also get to vote onto the team one player because they made it to the World Series last year.As for the Home Run Derby, from the list of guys who made the All-Star team, I would then form a ballot of volunteers willing to participate. This ballot goes online, say the week before the event. The top eight vote-getters are your guys. In the event that at least one guy from the host city's home team is in the running, he should make it and the other seven guys would be selected by number of votes. This way, Mr. Stark would get Jeter instead of Rodriguez, but he wouldn't get to complain that the host city's team was absent.

If they still want to let ASG victory determine home field advantate for the World Series, that's fine, but they should revise the process. For instance, it used to be that the leagues alternated hosting the ASG, but that hasn't been the case of late. I say let the ASG victor get home field advantage for the World Series, but let the reverse also be true. Let whomever wins the World Series get to host the next year's All-Star Game. I know, these things are scheduled years in advance. Why? If they can piece together all that goes with the World Series in the span of a few weeks, certainly they can still coordinate hosting an All-Star Game between October and July. Let each league put together their pecking order for host ballparks, and whichever league wins the World Series gets to go to that list and whichever is on top, gets the ASG the next year.

So, again, let's go back to last year. The American League won the ASG, so the Boston Red Sox got home field advantage for the World Series, which they won. Instead of the All-Star Game already having been decided by the commissioner's office long before, though, they would not have known until October, when the Red Sox won the World Series, that whichever team was next on the AL's list of host cities would actually have the ASG this year. Let's say that next on that list was Yankee Stadium; so far, nothing has changed from their current formula. But what if the Rockies had won? Then, Yankee Stadium closes without hosting the All-Star Game in its final season, and a National League park instead would have hosted.

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