Let’s be honest, when you were a kid playing a sports video game it was always so tempting to move the good players to your favorite team. Perhaps you moved the best player at every position to your team so you could play with the scariest team known to man. The idea of superstar squads have always intrigued us sports fans. How many “All-time NFL team” debates have you gotten into with your buddy? Who quarterbacks your team: Joe Montana or Tom Brady?
Trick question, the answer is Peyton Manning obviously.
Despite the appeal of these elite squads, the All-Star Game as a practice has been pretty unsuccessful. In America, all the major sports leagues have an all-star game with the MLB hosting the first one in 1933. Each of these leagues have issues of their own that bring down the experience of what should be a clash of the titans. You have the MLB with their “This Time It Counts” mentality which has the ASG determining who gets home-field advantage for the World Series instead of their regular season record. The NHL has an odd fantasy draft format that allows the fans to select six players from either conference while the league selects thirty-six players of their own. The pool of players select two captains who then pick players schoolyard style until two teams are filled. The NFL has been tinkering with their ASG nonstop for the last few years in order to boost attendance. They moved the Pro Bowl from Honolulu to Miami, changed it from being after the season to before the Super Bowl (effectively disallowing any players from the Super Bowl-going squads), and are now considering a schoolyard style game similar to the NHL. The MLS has perhaps the most interesting ASG format having only one team made of the best MLS players play against a strong European team. Fans have sold out stadiums in order to see their favorite players go up against juggernauts like Chelsea and Manchester United. This format would be best for every league, but no other sport has worldwide acclaim quite like soccer does.
Despite all of these different formats, one issue that plagues nearly every one is the democratic involvement of the fans and the court of popular opinion. Recently, Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers was elected to the All-Star Game despite only playing for about a month and a half this season (baseball has been in play since April for those of you who don’t know). If the season ended today, he would not be eligible for post-season awards, yet he was voted in anyways. The up-and-coming young phenom Bryce Harper was voted as a starter for the NL team with a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .281/.382/.551 with 13 HR, 29 RBI and 34 runs. The aging and out-of-the-spotlight Michael Cuddyer was left off the NL roster despite having a slash line of .338/.392/.580 with 15 HR, 52 RBI, and 43 runs. So why does Cuddyer get left off the roster with great numbers and Harper makes the starting nine with poorer numbers?
All-Star Games are riddled with hype and public opinion. Even in the leagues that have media and coaches vote, these bastions of sports knowledge and know-how are still influenced by the fans’ perception of who is and isn’t an all-star. Bryce Harper’s legacy gets a vault upwards and Cuddyer is forgotten by the casual fan. The leagues need to find a way to keep the integrity of these games if they want fans to continue being interested in them, because the Miss America Pageant that they have turned into is one of the main reasons that All-Star Games aren’t taken seriously, by the fans or the players.
For the leagues that are still struggling with their respective all-star games (looking at you, NFL), why not have the players that were elected MVP of each conference be the team captain and fill out a roster with the designated head coach of the two teams? A fantasy draft format by people who were selected by legitimate process, and not the hordes of “superfans” who see nothing past the colors of their teams, would be beneficial for the competitiveness of the game. Perhaps the rosters aren’t released until the day of the All-Star Game when they run out of the tunnel for introduction ceremonies. That’ll get people to tune into your program for at least the opening 15 minutes.
The All-Star Game is something that taps into the child in each of us, but the leagues need to sit down and think critically if they’re going to create something that is truly innovative and captivating.