Baseball's annual All-Star Game is losing both interest and significance. Why is this happening?
Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A Changin’” and that certainly applies to the annual major league All-Star Game. At one point in sports history, the AS Game was a major event that was second only to the World Series. First devised as a promotion to complement the Chisago World’s Fair of 1933 the idea had value – value meaning the fans loved it.
The idea was formulated by sportswriter Arch Ward and that started a process that has been refined or diluted over the years. Rosters have expanded and the importance of the game has been tinkered with. Most notably of tinkering was the winning league would get a home-field advantage during the World Series.
Voting requirements have changed and the opportunistic 1957 promotion by a Cincinnati radio station cost the fans their vote thanks to ballot box stuffing. That ill-advised decision has since gone by the wayside. To generate fan interest there have been various subsidiary events with the Home Run Derby being the most recognized and successful.
So why is the All-Star Game dying on the vine?
A dramatic decline in the all-important television viewership. The game just does not generate the excitement it once did and now is getting as stale for viewers as the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association All-Star Games. This goes deeper than just grilling hot dogs taking precedent over the game.
Baseball now has interleague play so that fans can occasionally see up front, close and personal their favorites from the other league. Before the explosion of mass media and various baseball expansions, the AS Game often became the only time you could see a Willie Mays of Stan Musial unless you lived in a two-team city.
Free agency and the proliferation of salaries have made player movement far more industrious than in the old pre-collective bargaining agreement days. Players staying with one team their entire career is unusual as the shifting fiscal landscape allows far more player leverage.
The previously mentioned media explosion is certainly appropriate since in the “Back in the day” players were often seen on newsreels in theaters. Before the rapid development of television and not the proliferation of electronic media, every play is readily available. No longer is it necessary to have information acquired via a reporter in another city. Every play of every game is there.
When the All-Star game originated and quite possibly for the next 30 years it was the only game in town. Baseball was America’s Sport and certainly the National Pastime. Teams – professional and amateur – dotted the landscape of America. Football was consigned to colleges as the professional ranks were an afterthought.
That afterthought applied to hockey – the domain of Canadians and basketball. Professionally basketball didn’t “take off” until the 1970s. Other sports started to get far more attention and our recreational options have changed exponentially. Competition – some of it emotional – has diminished baseball and the All-Star Game.
This year the game will get deserved attention since it represents that one segment of the yearly sports calender where nothing else is taking place, but nowhere like the glory days of baseball and the All-Star Game.
The times they are a changin’.