The All-Star Game, Here’s to Bud

Tuesday’s marathon MLB All-Star game opened the floodgates on criticism of the game’s link to the World Series. ESPN’s Jon Kruk (along with fellow talking heads) laid into Bud Selig and MLB over the setup of the All-Star game In Kruk’s view:

“How meaningful can it be when you have a parade the day of the game in 100 degree heat?”

Actually, NY’s high on Tuesday was 89, but never mind, funny-boy Kruk is getting his rant on. To listen to the ESPN talking heads, one would have thought that Selig had consigned the players to storming Utah beach on D-Day with half-empty rifles. (Of course the game would have ended in 10 innings without 2 missed calls by the umps — one at home plate.)

There are many things over which to criticize Selig (such as the starting time for the game such that it runs past 12 EDT even in 9 innings; See Skip’s post related to such decisions). Regarding the AS game, however, Selig deserves praise for providing an incentive for managers and players treat the game as something more than a corporate softfall outing. Is the incentive perfect? No, many players in the game and even managers may have little chance of appearing in the World Series so there is an incentive-outcome mismatch. Indirect influence from the affected parties mitigates this to some extent. A direct financial incentive would be optimal but likely not practical given this is a single game and the size of player’s annual salaries.

Even with its flaws, Selig has generated the desired effect — games played with intensity and concern about the outcome. That’s a big step forward from the afternoon cookout atmosphere that had developed by the 1990s where front-line players got their one or two at bats in and jetted off in chartered planes.

What I don’t understand is the strategy of a manager such as Terry Francona, who stands a good chance of being in the World Series. He managed similarly to the days before the World Series incentive was installed. He used 12 pitchers over the 15 innings including 7 in a row who pitched an inning or less even though the game was very tight with extra innings a possibility. In contrast to the 23 pitchers (12 AL; 11 NL) used over Tuesday night, the managers in the 1967 game that also went 15 innings used only 12 (7 NL; 5 AL). Catfish Hunter pitched the last 5 innings! Only one pitcher in 2008 pitched even 3 innings whereas 5 guys did so in 1967.

Why did the MLB All-Star game decline in importance in the players’ view over the 1980s and 1990s? No one was complaining in 1967 because Marichal, Drysdale, Gibson, Cuellar, and others pitched multiple innings. Good grief, if somebody pitched 5 innings today, I think Jon Kruk would storm MBL offices. As a broad answer, I would suggest income effects, but that’s a generic terms for different kinds of influences. For one, rising income permitted players to jet out on their schedule. A different aspect might be that rising salaries made the possible loss of income from injury higher. However, the loss of income in the 1950s or 1960s (with presumably less insurability against AS game injury) may have had a much bigger impact on living standard than today. From another angle, rising incomes change leisure-work tradeoffs and choices. Essentially, players quit treating the AS game as work and started treating it as leisure.

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Author: Brian Goff

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