Pass the Pillow

The All-Star break edition of the Prospectus Hit List is up; here’s my intro:

Don’t ask about the All-Star Game; this scribe boycotted, and it looks like I’ve got seven more years of same ahead of me. Seven more years of treating the game, its surrounding irrelevant contests, and the inane selection debates with all the consideration of the Simpsons’ take on the Grammies. A pox on the houses of both MLB and Fox for their continued efforts to turn the national pastime into grotesque spectacle replete with annoying sound effects, blatant pandering and sheer contempt for its audience’s intelligence… And now–swoosh! clank!–let’s get that perspective with our new Poxcam. Wow… pus!–swoosh! boom!…

That last line (save for a bit of onomatopoeia) was stolen lock, stock and barrel from Christina Kahrl’s response to my “poxing” on Baseball Prospectus’ internal mailing list. Mad props to her.

I stayed true to my word and didn’t catch a single lick of the game or any of its accoutrements. The news that Fox and MLB chose the occasion to announce a new seven-year contract was enough to quash any last-second impulses I might have had to at least check in. Seven years? Damn, what mirror did I just break?

As it was, technical difficulties with my computer earlier in the day — for awhile it looked like 2/3 of a completed Hit List was completely down the drain — forced me to work though the game anyway. From the commentary at BP, both internally and on the site, it sounds like I didn’t miss much. Sure, Will Carroll had a great time, but he was in Pittsburgh, and carrying credentials, and thus didn’t have to actually watch the damn thing on the tube. As my World Baseball Classic, Olympic and All-Star Game experience reminded me, there’s a huge difference between being at the Big Event and enduring its endless, overblown coverage on TV.

More instructive was curmudgeonly Joe Sheehan, a selection of whose lines from an All-Star Diary I’ll excerpt liberally for effect at the expense of context:

The home-field-in-World-Series gimmick is a tacit acknowledgement of the game’s diminished stature, while doing nothing to address the causes of its decline… Brad Penny vs. Kenny Rogers. It’s not often you get to see the sixth- or seventh-best starters in each league go after each other. Imagine if it didn’t count… They didn’t just turn a David Wright profile into an ad for “24,” did they?… I just got nine e-mails, seven of which said something bad about Fox or a Fox broadcaster. I just report this stuff, folks… I don’t get it. How do you make a big deal about “This Time It Counts,” and then let one of the managers go on TV and basically wash his hands for the night? Either the game is critical or it isn’t; the relentless mixed messages are tiring… I’m sorry…ceremony? What ceremony?… The fifth inning will start after 10 p.m. EDT, thanks in part to a 10-minute interruption so that Fox could get an extra commercial break during the game. Cynical? Me? Just wait until we get some mid-inning pitching changes late in the game for no reason whatsoever… I genuinely don’t know how you could watch this game and buy into any tiny fraction of the ideas that 1) the All-Star Game should “count” or 2) the game can tell you anything about the relative strength of the two leagues. I saw spring-training games in Phoenix in the first week of March, and they had a comparable level of intensity… I think if you add defensive innings played and at-bats, you’ll find that Gary Matthews Jr. and Matt Holliday led this game in playing time. Draw your own conclusions… One last Ozzie note: he used two of his manager’s selections on Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks, then didn’t put either into the game, while at the same time using the best pitcher on a division rival who started and went seven on Sunday. I’m just saying.

Sounds like hella fun, especially if you like yelling at the TV. And Joe’s somebody who professes to actually enjoy and care about the All-Star Game, spending hours writing about who should on the team; sitting next to him at Dodger Stadium last Saturday, he suggested that my beef is with Fox, not with MLB. But really, the roster rules, selection compromises, fake injuries, conflicts of interest, and total capitulation to the network make it impossible to absolve MLB of blame. Ultimately it’s their fault the ASG is so broken that it’s not worth fixing anymore.

Salon’s King Kaufman feels my pain:

Baseball’s All-Star Game needs fixing. The Midsummer Classic, renewed Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, is stuck in limbo. It’s part silly exhibition, part deadly serious decider of postseason fates.

The two parts don’t mix. And if the All-Star Game isn’t already a joke, it’s getting very close. Want to elicit derisive snorts among baseball fans? Use “This time it counts!” as a punch line. It never misses.

This is the first year I’ve seriously heard a commentator compare baseball’s All-Star Game to the NFL’s, the Pro Bowl, and I have to say the comparison sounded pretty fair to me. It’s a rule of life as crucial as not playing poker with guys named Doc: Don’t let anything you care about get compared to the Pro Bowl.

Thanks mostly, but not entirely, to historical factors beyond the control of mere mortals, the All-Star Game was already well on the way to irrelevance in 2002 when the dreaded tie game forced commissioner Bud Selig to make a decision, which is never a good thing. He made a typically Seligian move by declaring that to fix the All-Star Game, he would change the way the World Series works.

Selig’s the kind of guy who fixes his muffler by getting a louder stereo.

Kaufman was back again today:

“You’re stuck!” taunted Joe Buck jokingly as he and Tim McCarver announced Fox’s new TV deal with Major League Baseball. “You’re stuck with us for the next seven years!”

Thanks for understanding, Joe. That’s exactly how it feels.

…Fox dropping half of the League Championship Series is good news because, really, isn’t anybody better at broadcasting baseball than Fox? I tried to think of a network that was more annoying in its coverage than Fox during the 43-minute wait for the game, but failed.

…Fox hates baseball, and if it could figure out a way to broadcast baseball without showing any actual baseball, if it could all be sappy music and slow-motion highlights somehow, like that by-the-numbers review of Pirates history, it’d probably pay twice as much for the privilege.

Yeesh. Some party I missed. I’m sad to see the All-Star Game go; I remember it fondly from my youth, caring who won the game and the MVP awards (I can still tell you that Steve Garvey won in 1978, Dave Parker in ’79, Tim Raines in ’87, Derek Jeter in 2000, Cal Ripken in 2001…). And while I do enjoy a break from baseball now and then, even in summer, three straight days without it is an eternity when there’s so much ersatz baseball going on in its place.

Rather than rail against this any longer, I’ll simply invoke the final scene of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when the Chief smothers the lobotomized McMurphy, as my metaphor. The All-Star Game used to be a lot of fun, but it will never be the same so long as Fox has it in its clutches, and it looks like awhile before they let go. Say your goodbyes and pass the pillow.

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