x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Does anybody care for the All-Star Game?

Absent from the endless discussions about how to improve baseball's All-Star Game was the one that would solve all the problems immediately. End it.

Absent from the endless discussions about how to improve baseball's All-Star Game was the one that would solve all the problems immediately. End it.

Seriously. Would anyone really care? And just imagine if the idea gets traction across the sports spectrum.

If the professional leagues in American sport really want to do something for fans, other than pick their pockets, keep the mid-season breaks and have the players perform community service, such as staging sports clinics in their hometowns.

For one thing, they might be better attended by players than the All-Star Game. Almost one-fifth of the players named to the two squads this season did not show up.

Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop, might be the face of baseball, but his body was already in R&R mode.

He went to Florida with his girlfriend Minka Kelly, enraging all those commentators who exhausted their store of superlatives praising him over the weekend, the television executives at Fox who spent hours dreaming up all those promotional tie-ins, and who knows how many of the four million fans who voted Jeter into the American League's starting line-up.

Even with home-field advantage in the World Series riding on the outcome of the game, several AL starting pitchers passed up a chance to appear - either because they were injured, resting or played a regular season game on Sunday.

The list read like the first round of everybody's fantasy draft: Detroit's Justin Verlander, the Yankees' CC Sabathia and closer Mariano Rivera, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Tampa Bay's James Shields and Boston's Jon Lester.

Lester's Boston teammate, Josh Beckett, was scheduled as the second AL pitcher but bowed out during warm ups because of a sore knee.

Beckett said afterward he would have pitched through the discomfort had it been a regular-season game.

Not surprisingly, the National League all-stars rode superior pitching and some timely hits to win. They were also better at pretending that it meant something.

"That was part of the message, how important it was for us, and how important the game was: do it again for the National League champion," said Bruce Bochy, the San Francisco and NL manager, whose team was awarded home-field advantage in last year's World Series.

The All-Star Game once meant more than this. Players used to treat the game as an honour instead of worrying about getting hurt.

The highlights from past games running wall-to-wall on ESPN proved that.

How many times did you see the Pete Rose collision at the plate with Ray Fosse in the 1970 contest? And what are the chances you will ever see anything like it again?

The guess here is never.

There is no need to romanticise the good old days. We like to think the players competed for pride, but even back then, it was about money.

The problem, though, is that there is so much more money on the line these days that the likelihood of any player stepping outside his comfort zone in one of these games is practically nil.

And it's not just baseball. The NFL's Pro Bowl is a glorified flag-football contest and even the NBA and NHL versions, which are entertaining enough as displays of offensive firepower, offer so little defence and intensity that calling them honest games stretches the truth.

So go ahead, Bud Selig, make a statement. Either make attendance at the game mandatory for the players selected, or just make the midsummer break a holiday.

If it ever deserved the label "classic," it is anything but that these days.

* Associated Press