Shane Bieber was the MVP of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, throwing 19 pitches, playing one-half inning, exerting himself for eight minutes of the two hours and 48 minutes the two teams played. He was squeezed into Tuesday’s game between commercials for Geico and All-State, and then he was gone until it was time to award the trophy.
Bieber as MVP seems about right. A player who barely played should be the MVP of a game that has so little meaning.
The All-Star Game was once the good idea of a Chicago sports editor named Arch Ward, which might have been the last forward-thinking innovation anyone in the newspaper industry has had. That it was in 1933 might explain the problems of newspapers in the 21st century.
But the state of the All-Star Game isn’t much better. If you ask baseball people, they’ll tell you it’s the best of all All-Star Games, which is Hall of Fame damning with faint praise. It might be, but it’s still long outlived its novelty and ability to engage.
The All-Star Game today is a cross between a spring training game and T-ball. All it’s missing is a fight between parents. Like T-ball, everyone gets to play, and like T-ball, it even once ended in a tie. Like spring training, many players don’t even want to travel to play — 10 players in Tuesday’s game were replacements.
Some who were replaced were hurt or pitched on Sunday, but 16% of the honorees said they had to stay home and do the laundry. Imagine an Oscars ceremony where that big a proportion of the work force played hooky.
Who can blame them? At the All-Star Game, everyone plays half a game at best or pitches one inning, and a month later no one remembers who won. What kind of message is sent when Mike Trout plays five innings and then makes way for Whit Merrifield? Did Joe Buck call the first five innings of the game on Fox and then give way to an understudy?
Each team used nine pitchers for no more than an inning; in 1967, both teams combined to use 12 pitchers in a 15-inning game.
The only All-Star to bat more than twice this year? Carlos Santana. By popular demand, no doubt.
The All-Star Game was once filled with memorable moments. The last I can remember was Ted Williams being wheeled in at Fenway Park, and that was 20 years ago. Other than that, it’s Reggie Jackson hitting the light tower in Detroit. That was 48 years ago. Alex Bregman was last year’s All-Star Game MVP and I commend anyone who remembers what for.
Bieber hurled a scoreless inning on Tuesday, but so did six other AL pitchers. His was 1-2-3, but so were three others. Like Bieber, Aroldis Chapman struck out the side, and he did it in the ninth to save the game.
Picking the most valuable from that group is like trying to determine the guardsman at Buckingham Palace with the most outrageous personality. How can you distinguish between them?
This year’s All-Star game was a sappy movie full of heartwarming moments — culminating with Bieber the hometown MVP — but no plot. If sentiment were the objective, the All-Star Game succeeded.
Maybe that’s the best that can be hoped for from the All-Star Game in 2019. Maybe its problems are inoperable; if not, get back to playing the best players, limit substitutions and rosters and see if anyone cares who wins.
The All-Star Game was once fierce competition between two leagues that rarely crossed. Now it’s more of the same between two familiar leagues trying to recreate what can’t be recreated.
Like Harold Baines going into the Hall, I’ll withhold my approval. And viewership.