Major League Baseball hasn’t figured out how to make the All-Star Game vibrate with folks since they introduced interleague play 24 years ago, and the then-as-now hilarious 2002 tie game that gave us the standardized look of Bud Selig looking annoyed at managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre saying they ran out of pitchers. (Fun fact: three of the four pitchers who weren’t used that night were Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Tom Glavine. Guy-Remembering fact within the fun fact: the fourth was Matt Morris.) Those were seminal decisions that turned the whole all-star thing into little more than a way to sell new jerseys and hats to shut-ins, completists, and lunatics.
But with the 2021 edition a week away, there is just enough time to consider the one idea that would absolutely change viewer disdain into a full-on wings-and-nachos moment—or prove beyond all doubt that baseball is doomed.
Reduce the game to the following teams: Jacob deGrom pitching to Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Shohei Ohtani; and then Ohtani pitching to Guerrero, Tatis, and deGrom, who’s merely batting .387. Oh, and when it becomes apparent that there’s a reason 10 of deGrom’s 12 hits have come off losing teams, and that you don’t want to screw up his swing for the playoff drive when he’ll be pitching every other day, you can pinch-hit for him with Nick Castellanos, and bring back deGrom for Fox’s in-memoriam segment for Tom Seaver, which Castellanos will promptly interrupt. But that’s it. The best pitcher, the best power hitters, the two-way wizard, and the guy who has become a national force by hitting homers at the least appropriate times.
Sure, this may do the other players a bit of a disservice. I mean, Adam Frazier and Buster Posey and Marcus Semien and Jesse Winker and Ronald Acuña have earned their big night as well. In fact, you could exchange Acuña for Castellanos and lose only the Mr. Bean–level comedic timing. Either way, You’ve got the one thing Rob Manfred complained about with Mike Trout—star power—and the only thing that separates the game from the Pro Bowl. Though in fairness, you could exchange Mitch McConnell taking a nap at his desk for the Pro Bowl and not miss a beat.
No, this is it, the litmus test for baseball’s continued viability. The best pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968, Babe Ruth for the post-radio generation, cartoon home run heroes, and Castellanos, Harbinger Of Doom. It encapsulates the home run-or-die ethos of the current game, the two pitchers who are most outside human norms, an ode to history, and a hat tip to inadvertent comedy. It would allow you to forget, if only momentarily, about Marcell Ozuna and Trevor Bauer and the strip-search era and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If successful, the new format might also may break MLB of its certifiably moronic alternate uniform addiction. When the San Francisco Giants wearing a uniform with an orange G and a fog gradient makes the MLB and ESPN headline stack (our culture is dying, you see), and when the most salient analysis comes from Evan Longoria, who thought the whole thing should have been replaced by an Alcatraz motif, you’ve gone six steps too far, fallen into a deep roadside creekbed and lost your cellphone.
And the only way back for baseball, quite frankly, is the five most promotable All-Stars playing weirdo home run derby for the future of the sport. The others should be allowed to come, bring their families, and be given a fat check with multiple zeroes for their seasons since we’ve just undercut their achievements for this idea, but this is the moment fate has given us. It isn’t true baseball, but it’s all baseball has for us right now, and in these perilous times the only true ability is adaptability.
Or would you rather listen to Chris Russo do six more hours on spin rates and deadline sellers? The choice, dear readers, is yours, and we know what you prefer, you indolent scum.