All-star games, by their nature, are about spectacle and celebration more than competition. They are, at least in theory, the best players showing off their skills.
Tuesday night’s baseball All-Star Game gave us its usual subtle reminders of how it differs from its counterparts in our other major sports — not least of which is that baseball’s is played in midsummer, while the others come in the dead of winter.
In the all-star games of the NFL, NBA and NHL, defense is an afterthought, making the “contest” a higher-scoring imitation of a real game (or, in the case of the NFL Pro Bowl, a mockery of the sport).
On Tuesday night, the American League held the National League’s hitters to three hits, and the score was a baseball-like 3-0.
The difference might come down to this: The other games are played to a clock. Baseball is played to defense. Outs are baseball’s unit of time. The game is its own timepiece.
Not that the All-Star Game today is laden with competitive fire or the subject of intense fan interest. Baseball has, for a variety of reasons, largely muted the differences between the American and National Leagues. Pervasive television and chronic interleague play gives the fans, casual or otherwise, far more opportunity to see stars pitted against each other than was once the case. The rosters are overloaded, and the managers are intent on getting as many players as possible into the game, thus limiting the exposure of the very best players.
But the “midsummer classic” still retains its ability to please and thrill — as in Tuesday’s welcome and farewell for the retiring Mariano Rivera.
Moments like that will keep the All-Star game going for a long, long time.