With every passing year, baseball’s All-Star rosters seem… well, a little ridiculous. To some extent, they’ve always been that way, due to the rule that each team has to have at least one selection, thus de-valuing the meaning of the term “All-Star” already.
Throughout my formative years in the 1970s and ‘80s, rosters usually included about 28-30 players, though some years included as many as 33 (After doing a little research, I think that may include an allowance for hurt players who didn’t play, but in some years I haven’t been able to confirm this). As baseball expanded in 1993 (Rockies, Marlins) and again in ’98 (Rays, Diamondbacks), rosters had been standardized at 32 players. In 2009, MLB added a 33rd player to each league’s squad, and in 2010, a 34th.
Still, the number of “All Stars” seems to creep up each year. As the game approaches tonight, if you account for the various players who have declined to participate and add in their replacements, 38 National League Players have been named “All Stars,” and 39 for the American League. Part of that is from the rule (guideline?) that players who were starting pitchers on Sunday’s games will be replaced on the roster, which accounted for four of those players (three in the N.L.). A couple other players, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Locke and Freddie Freeman (the latter who’d just been voted in by the fans a few days ago) will also sit with injuries, and were replaced by Sergio Romo, Mark Melancon and Brian McCann, respectively.
We all tend to reference “the way things should be” as defined by our personal history with those things. As for me, the first All-Star Game I remember watching was the 1979 classic, a fantastic contest which the National League won by a 7-6 score thanks to game MVP Dave Parker, who threw a couple men out at the plate from right field. That year, the N.L. had 29 men on its roster (four of whom had been replaced, making for a total of 33 All-Stars) and the A.L., 28, plus Rod Carew, who elected not to participate.
So yes, I understand the numbers game which has helped us arrive at a place where 77 guys can say they were “All Stars,” as compared to the 60 or so who once held that designation. My question is, which was was “right?”
The 34-man roster seems a bit absurd to me in terms of the flow of the game. I understand the need to get 7-8 pitchers in the game from a practical standpoint as well as to reward them for their accomplishments, and obviously you’ll want to get some positional reserves in the game for the same reason.
At the same time, it’s hard to get anyone substantial playing time. Sixty-one guys played in last year’s game. Since 2008, no pitcher has thrown more than two innings — and in 2008, it happened because the game went 15 innings. Since that same year, most of the starting position players don’t get more than two at-bats.
In terms of the roster size from a reward standpoint, I can understand the changes. In 1980, America had about 225 million people; we’re about 316 million now. Per capita (including the All Stars who chose not to play), America honored one All Star per 3.63 million people, compared to one every 4.09 now. That doesn’t even take into account the fact that we’re getting players from different parts of the world — Japan, in particular — that we didn’t before. Of course, American kids don’t play organized baseball nearly as much as they once did, so maybe that somewhat evens out.
In spite of that, I preferred the games the way they used to be because… well, you’re picked to play in a game. The shuffle of players in and out of both the rosters and the game itself demeans the event, which is not nearly as good as it once was.
Here’s what I propose to fix things:
1. Limit rosters to 30 players.
2. Don’t play Sunday games, so that Sunday’s pitchers can participate for a few pitches on Tuesday.
3. Take away the “one All Star per team” rule so that the most deserving players make the game.
At least, that’s how I’d do things. Given baseball’s track record of being perpetually light-years behind on improving its product, I won’t hold my breath.