The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 17, 2013

Tweak the mid-summer classic before you lose me


The Mankato Free Press

---- — The Major League Baseball All-Star extravaganza has come and gone and, quite frankly, I'm rapidly losing interest in the annual event.

Undoubtedly age has a lot to do with the significantly fewer chills that travel up and down my spine, but it's more than that. When the concept was first developed, it was a true All-Star game. Over the years it has gradually moved away from that.

So here are three things I think can be done to liven up the All-Star break. One is to adjust the fan voting.

I get it. MLB wants the fans to take some ownership in the game so it has allowed them to stuff ballot boxes to get their favorite players into the contest.

I'm fine with that but why do the top vote-getters at each position have to start? Isn't it enough that they make the roster? Don't handcuff the All-Star managers by telling them who they have to put on the field to start the game. Let them use their baseball knowledge to come up with their own lineup.

Another move would be to shorten up the rosters. They're way too large and it becomes almost comical to see the respective coaching staffs trying to get everybody into the game before the nine innings are up. Shorter rosters would take a lot of that pressure off the managers and they could treat it more like a real baseball game.

I realize that may mean the at-least-one-player-from-each-team mandate may have to be done away with but that's OK. How about this: The only players who HAVE to make the all-star teams are the top vote-getters and at least one from the hometown team where the game is being played.

My last tweak concerns the Monday night Home Run Derby. Now that steroids are no longer prevelant, it's fun to see the game's top power-hitters muscle the ball over the fence using just their own juice. My problem is it's not challenging enough.

This may be a bit radical but here's my idea. Instead of having batting practice coaches lob up pitches to the plate like your next-door neighbor at the local slowpitch game, let's use a pitching machine.

The devices have come a long way since the early days and now most of them are pretty consistent in terms of speed and placement. Let's set it to throw a fastball down the heart of the plate every time and see how the home run guys do.

I'm not talking about a high-90s fastball ala Justin Verlander or Matt Harvey, but something a little tougher to hit than the ball-on-a-tee setup the contest seems to have morphed into. There has to be a happy medium that will enable the players to still show off their long-ball prowess without making the home run all but a sure thing.

So will making these changes revive my interest in the event? Maybe, maybe not. But the way it's going now, MLB is sure to lose me in the next year or two.

Jim Rueda is The Free Press Sports editor. He can be reached at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com or at 507-344-6381.