Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle once said baseball must be a great game because it survives all our attempts to screw it up.
Just look at Tuesday night’s All-Star Game.
There have always been baseball fans who find baseball boring, and that’s a problem. To get the most out of baseball you have to pay attention and, increasingly, we have a hard time doing that.
I’d list how many distractions we face in everyday life, but I haven’t checked my phone for incoming texts in the last 20 seconds, I haven’t sent out a tweet in the last 30 seconds and I’m already getting bored with this sentence; I feel the need to move on.
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As a nation we have the attention span of a hummingbird that just finished a Starbucks run.
That being the case, MLB decided to jazz up Tuesday night’s game by having reporters interview hitters in the on-deck circle, putting reporters in the dugouts so players could be interviewed while the game was going on and allowing Alex Rodriguez to wander around the infield interviewing players while they warmed up.
Heck, they even interviewed Bryce Harper while he was playing the outfield.
But, what difference did any of this make?
It was only an exhibition.
A look back at the 2002 All-Star Game
In 2002, after Bud Selig allowed the All-Star Game to end in a tie, people were outraged. One of the beauties of baseball is that there are no ties; you keep playing until you have a winner.
But All-Star Game managers feel pressure to get every player on the field, so in 2002 both teams ran out of pitching.
Selig got hammered for the decision to allow a tie game, so next year it was decided that whichever league won the All-Star Game would have home-field advantage in the World Series; another horrible decision designed to make up for the last horrible decision.
Declaring “This time it counts” did nothing to disguise the problem: home-field advantage in the World Series — something that mattered — would be decided by an exhibition game, something that didn’t matter.
All-Star Game managers still felt pressure to get every player on the field, but they were also being asked to win the game; two goals that were often in conflict. So after 14 short years, the people who run baseball decided to rectify the problem, and this year the All-Star Game went back to being an exhibition.
And since it was only an exhibition, why not have a little fun?
It might be an exhibition, but players are still competitive
On Tuesday night, underneath all the goofing around — the pictures at home plate, the dugout celebrations, the mid-game interviews — a very good game was going on because players can’t help themselves; they’re competitive.
During the All-Star Game, players might clown around and laugh, but hitters still want to get hits and pitchers still want to get outs. Nobody wants to be embarrassed on a national stage.
Despite all the distractions, the players gave fans a good game — a 2-1 American League, extra-inning victory.
So if everybody had fun and the players still put on a good game, where’s the harm?
The media likes access and is always pushing for more
If fans will tolerate on-deck interviews and even worse, if fans like them, how long until they’re conducted during games that matter?
MLB is afraid fans find the game boring, so they add bells and whistles, but those bells and whistles can be a distraction to the people playing the game.
During the regular season, when a pitcher comes in from the bullpen, he usually does it on his own; but during the playoffs the pitcher is often accompanied by a cameraman, who then circles the mound, shooting video while the pitcher warms up.
During big games managers are expected to do in-game interviews, just when the manager ought to be thinking about something else.
In some of the most important games played, the media’s demand for access distracts the people playing the game; we go from covering the game to changing the game.
The media is always seeking access, always creeping closer to the action to provide an inside look and Tuesday night, we crossed the line and that line is easy to see; it’s white and runs from home plate to the foul poles.
If the 2017 All-Star Game was a template for future All-Star Games, no sweat; but the media should stay off the field in games that matter.