If there must be an All-Star break, move it to September—play ball in July
One recent mid-July, I was in Wisconsin Dells, a summer resort town with water parks, tourist attractions and outdoor fun-in-the-sun activities.
As activity buzzed around me, I wondered: What would happen if, at that very moment, Wisconsin Dells was arbitrarily closed? All the water parks—shut down. Water ski show performances—cancelled. All tourist attractions—shuttered.
That would be stupid. It would not only deprive families on summer vacation something they enjoy and desire, but also inflict unnecessary losses on businesses relying on those tourists.
And yet at that very moment, Major League Baseball had shut down its season for four days for that year’s All-Star break. True, two of those days are occupied by baseball, in some fashion—the Monday Home Run Derby and the Tuesday All-Star Game. But Wednesday and Thursday are completely barren—Major League Baseball-free. At the very height of the season when weather conditions are most ideal, when families on summer vacation are able to attend games, baseball shuts down entirely.
This is more remarkable given the timing. Pro hockey and pro basketball have just ended in June. NFL preseason football doesn’t begin until August. College football is two months off.
At last, in mid-July, Major League Baseball is the only one of the four major sports that is being played. But baseball abandons the field and leaves a virtual sports vacuum. And though the break is only a few days, by the time baseball returns, NFL training camps are opening—and sports fans turn their attention elsewhere.
Baseball squanders this moment alone in the spotlight by taking a break. Baseball instead needs to step up and grab the limelight.
Some may argue that’s what baseball is trying to do with the All-Star Game, promoting its biggest stars in a primetime broadcast national TV game. But is the All-Star Game really a great promotional tool for baseball? Pitchers are restricted to one or two innings. Starting batters sit after one or two plate appearances. Star players frequently find reasons to avoid the game to protect themselves for the regular-season grind.
And the All-Star Game is not so much a game as it is a ceremony, in which nearly every player selected gets to play, making it feel more like a bill signing ceremony in which the president is required to sign his or her name with 50 different pens so that each attending dignitary can receive a souvenir used to sign the bill.
But you may argue the outcome of the All-Star Game “matters” because the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. Given those stakes, it’s too bad the actual quality of the game doesn’t matter more.
If we must have an All-Star Game (and I don’t think we must) let’s keep playing baseball without a break in July and move the game to another part of the season. I propose moving it to September. Here’s my idea:
- Labor Day Monday: Last regular season day before the break.
- Tuesday: First day of All-Star break. Home Run Derby would be scheduled.
- Wednesday: All-Star Game.
- Thursday: No events, no games scheduled.
- Friday: Regular season games resume.
First, it is a time after the end of the traditional family travel season, so you’re not depriving those fans a chance to see regular season games in the height of the summer travel season in July. You’re also not leaving sports fans high and dry in mid-July when absolutely nothing else is going on.
Second, if the All-Star Game is seen as a public relations boost for baseball, this is the time of the year when the sport needs it most, as it struggles to be heard through the overwhelming noise of football. In the past couple of decades, football—pro and college (and sometimes, high school)—have so eclipsed baseball in popularity, that it becomes difficult to follow baseball once football season begins. Football is such an all-consuming media behemoth from August to February that baseball is lucky to get attention for its playoffs and World Series in October.
And a third reason to put the All-Star Game in September is to select a team that is actually more representative of the season. By the time All-Star voting ends now, less than three months of the season has been played—too short a time and too small of a sample to get a good fix on who the All-Stars really are.
For example, last year’s overall top player, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta had 29.1 Box-Toppers points. But at the All-Star break in 2015, he had just 10.0 Box-Toppers points and ranked 12th among all players—and was not even selected to the National League All-Star team. However, if the game were held in September, after Labor Day, more of the season would have played out and Arrieta’s status as one of 2015’s top stars—and in fact, 2015’s very top star—would have been more clear. By Labor Day 2015, Arrieta had 21.1 Box-Toppers points and ranked first.
Baseball clings to tradition, but has proven flexible. We now have the designated hitter, teams changing leagues, two Wild Card playoff teams. Heck, historically, even the All-Star Game is not sacred—the game was played twice a year from 1959 to 1962. Who is to say today the All-Star Game cannot be moved to September—or scrapped entirely?
If you say, well, if you move the All-Star Game, then it’s no longer the “Midsummer Classic.” True. But most years, that motto was only half right anyway.
Shawn Plank writes, edits and produces Box-Toppers, which reports on baseball’s top players through the single-minded focus of a single, artisanal and handcrafted statistic, Box-Toppers points.
The Box-Toppers metric was developed in 1994 and has been used to track every regular season game played since the start of the 1995 season. The Box-Toppers website/blog began in 2013.
Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.
To contact Shawn, click here or tweet @BoxToppers.