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The annual game for the best Major League Baseball players is so popular, its name is applied to almost anything nowadays: games, teams, songs, burgers, you name it. To be an All Star in anything means being better than the rest. What, exactly, is the All-Star Game in baseball anyway?
The All-Star Game is a single Major League Baseball game played each July between teams from the National and American leagues. The game’s rosters are filled with the most-notable (or -popular) players as selected by fans, managers, and players.
To get an idea of its significance, consider definitions for the term “all-star” ~ which was popularized by baseball’s middle-of-summer event. All-star refers to a team entirely composed of star performers; or a performer (player) who is highly skilled, respected, or popular in his or her field.
So “all-star” is an adjective, describing what comes after. It’s easy to see why MLB officials applied it to a game they envisioned being played only by the biggest of stars in their sport.
Today the game itself is the anchor of a 3- or 4-day celebration of the MLB, its players, and its fans. Skip all the non-game extras like the Home Run Derby or minor leaguers’ all-star game, and you have a simple exhibition game that means nothing for that season’s standings.
In all reality, most of the time the actual all-star game does not live up to expectations, for a number of reasons. Namely, managers try to get every player on the roster on the field at least for a little bit, so there are a lot of substitutions. Plus, starting pitchers are limited due to their regular-season workload.
The All-Star Game is primarily a way for fans to see the very best of the sport on the field at the same time. Fans appreciate seeing matchups, like the best pitcher against the biggest slugger, that they otherwise might never witness.
Now known as the Midsummer Classic, the All-Star Game began in 1933, a concept invented by the sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, and intended to be a 1-time event. The first All-Star Game was July 6 that year at Comiskey Park in Chicago, as part of the 1933 World’s Fair.
Usually staged the 2nd or 3rd Tuesday in July, it is the centerpiece of a break in regular MLB games that denotes the middle of the season (though in actuality it occurs after the midpoint).
How the players are selected has changed many times since the event’s inception. Currently, fans pick the starting non-pitcher players; managers pick the pitchers; and players and managers choose reserves.
It didn’t start that way. For the initial All-Star games, the starting players were picked by fans, and the managers filled out the rest of the roster. Then, over a 12-year period, managers picked entire teams.
The MLB surrendered All-Star voting to the fans again starting in 1947, at least for the 8 starting position players per squad. However, a ballot-stuffing controversy in 1957 resulted in the discontinuation of fan voting.
For 12 years, managers, coaches, and players picked All-Star players. From 1959 to 1962, there were 2 All-Star games per season. Both the lack of fan input on the players, and overexposure of too many events are cited as a reason for a decline in interest.
In 1970, as part of a corporate modernization effort by MLB, fans again were allowed to choose the starting position players. Additionally, if a player was not listed on a ballot, fans could write in that player’s name, and they put it to use immediately. Rico Carty was selected as an All-Star as a write-in candidate by fans that very year.
All-Star Game players are still mostly picked by the public, but the manner in which that selection occurs changes periodically. For insurance, because managers picked players on their own team too much, players were allowed to choose reserves starting in 2003.
Over the years, the size of the team rosters for the MLB All-Star game expanded, in response to various encountered problems and criticisms.
Much of the rules tinkering occurred when the game ended in a tie in 2002 because it went extra innings and each team ran out of players to legally enter the game. The tie was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak ~ league officials had been worried about fan interest in the contest long before that.
That’s why the following year, home-field advantage in the World Series was given to the league that won the All-Star game.
In 2009, the MLB added another pitcher slot to each roster, expanding it to 33 players. The next year they added another position player so the rosters are now 34 players for each (compared with 24 or 25 for regular-season games).
The main critique of the modern All-Star Game in baseball is that the contest is boring, or an anti-climax after a big pregame build-up. They are almost always low-scoring; and most players only get on the field a couple of innings, 3 or more if they are very lucky (usually if their team is hosting the game).
A rule that has lingered despite complaints is that every team must be represented in each squad’s rosters. The rule was initiated to combat large-market teams from sending many players to the game; and to maintain interest in the game in every city with a team.
However, opponents note the game is supposed to showcase the very best players, and that the old rule of all-teams-represented prevents players from better teams from the roster in favor of often less-deserving players from weaker clubs.
The significance of the annual contest has been debated since, well, 1933. Because it never has been included in the official regular-season standings, traditionally the game is played for fun for fans and players, and bragging rights for players and coaches between the rival leagues.
This used to be a big deal before the introduction of interleague games. Prior to that, American and National league teams did not play against each other except in the World Series. So the All-Star game was a chance to see players who otherwise wouldn’t come to your town.
However, through the years fans questioned the efforts of players in game play, or questioned star players who chose not to participate. Eventually, in 2002, the All-Star game ended in a tie when the score was knotted and each team ran out of players!
In an effort to address that, and add excitement and even meaning, to the All-Star Game, the MLB added a rule starting in 2003 that gave home-field advantage in that season’s World Series to the team of the league that won the All-Star Game.
The term “all-star” has long transcended baseball and the term is part of American lexicon, describing everything from top little league teams to popular songs and bands:
- The song “All Star” by the band Smashmouth became a huge hit after it was featured prominently in the Disney film “Shrek.”
- Numerous awards programs incorporate the term All-Star into their program, or even event name.
- The surviving members of the rock band Nirvana immediately formed a band called Long Beach Dub Allstars (which interestingly made the term a single word).
- Every youth baseball organization (such as Little League) create6 teams of the best players at the end of the season, invariably called “all-star teams.” Usually these teams play full tournaments, not a single game inner-league.
- The All-Star Game for the National Basketball Association is among the league’s top events every season.
- Only twice has no All-Star Game been scheduled: in 1945 due to World War II; and 1994 due to the player’s strike.
- The designated hitter first appeared in 1989, and through 2010 the DH was used in games based on the league hosting that year’s event. Since 2011, the DH has been in every All-Star Game.
- 1st All-Star to become a Hall of Famer: Babe Ruth, inducted to HoF in 1936
- 1st rookie All-Star: Joe DiMaggio, 1936
- Most All-Star Games: Hank Aaron, 25
Question: After Rico Carty, who was the 2nd player named an All-Star by write-in votes?
Answer: Steve Garvey of the Los Angeles Dodgers, in 1974. Interestingly, Garvey won the Most Valuable Player award for that game ~ and the National League MVP for that season!
Q.: What were some changes in the MLB in the 1960s?
A.: Sort of like modern times, baseball endured a challenging period in the 1960s, when hitting and scoring were way down, at the same time football was taking away fan interest. So baseball made changes several years in a row, including the decision to let fans pick position players for the All-Star Game, in 1970. Before that, other changes included splitting each league into 2 divisions; lowering the pitcher’s mound; and shrinking the strike zone.