The 2023 MLB All-Star Game was a snoozefest. A 3-2 game that took more than three hours to mercifully end, highlighted by an “MVP” performance by a guy who probably shouldn’t have even been on the team. Most fans didn’t bother to watch. It drew just a hair more than 7 million viewers, an all-time low — which is saying something, because the previous year’s game was, at the time, also the lowest-drawing ASG in league history.
The MLB All-Star Game sucks. The good news? It’s really easy to fix.
- Use the “Match Play” format from Banana Ball.
- Let managers remove fielders or concede outs to potentially earn more points
- Use the extra-inning automatic runner rule in every inning.
- Get fans involved — if they catch a foul ball, it’s an out, and they get it signed by the pitcher and batter.
(If you don’t like this, fine; but don’t argue with me unless you read the whole thing.)
“Is It Fun?”
Twenty years ago, MLB tried to make the All-Star Game better by making it important — in their words “This Time, It Counts” — by tying the game’s result to home field advantage in the World Series. But fundamentally, the problem is that the All-Star Game is an exhibition game: there’s nothing to create any drama, and MLB’s effort to “fix” that didn’t work, to the surprise of few.
But what if, instead of trying to make the game “important,” all the league cared about was making it fun? That was probably the motivation when they decided that instead of extra innings, a tied-after-9 All-Star Game would be decided by a home run derby, and even though fans have yet to experience that, it seems like such a great idea. Not because it’s fair, but because it’s fun.
That question — “is it fun?” — is going to be the mantra for this design, with a side order of history and tradition.
Let’s Start With Banana Ball
If you’re not familiar with the Savannah Bananas, read their Wikipedia entry — I’m not going to waste time talking about them much. They’re an independent minor league-caliber team. The important part about the Bananas is that they use an adjusted version of the typical baseball rules. Their guiding principle, as franchise owner Jesse Cole told the Los Angeles Times, is to keep fans in the game: “We looked at every boring play and we got rid of it.” The rules of Banana Ball are on the Wikipedia page.
I’m not suggesting that MLB adopt all the rules of Banana Ball — there’s no reason to ban bunting or to limit the All-Star Game to two hours. and it’d be inviting chaos to ban batters from stepping out of the batter’s box. The “walks are called sprints” rule is great but too radical for our current needs (and one injury would doom the whole experiment). Here are the rules I’m adopting:
- Games are won by points, instead of runs: the team that scores the most runs in an inning gets one point,
except in the 9th inning when every run counts as one point.
- No mound visits are allowed (injuries excluded).
- Foul balls caught by fans are counted as outs.
Let’s call that first rule the “Match Play” rule, borrowing the name from golf. I’m not using their 9th-inning rule because I have a more fun, chaotic idea.
Who Says There Has To Be Nine Fielders or Three Outs?
The Match Play rule means that every inning can be a walk-off inning. Let’s say, in an AL ballpark, the NL scores three runs in the top of the 1st. If the AL loads the bases and hits a grand slam, the inning ends, right then and there — and the AL goes up, 1 point to zero. It’s already more fun.
But let’s go crazy.
The big problem with Match Play is that the game can end in the 5th inning. If the NL wins the first five innings, there’s no way for the AL to come back. The Banana Ball rules solve this with that 9th Inning Rule I struck out above; I have a better idea.
In the 9th inning, a team can be down, at worst, 8-0. So we need a way to make it so they can earn at least 8 points in that inning.
First, the traditional home team/bottom half rule needs a minor adjustment. Let’s keep that rule for the first inning and in any other inning where the teams are tied. But if one team has a lead going into an inning, that team bats in the top half.
Second, starting in the 7th inning, the manager of the trailing team can buy his team some extra points — maybe. Before the inning begins, that manager can remove up to six of his fielders one defense — you always need a pitcher, catcher, and one other player — with each forgone fielder worth, potentially, one point. If he gives up at least three fielders, then on offense, he can concede up to two runs while on offense, similarly earning his team two more points, potentially. If you give up all six fielders and both outs, you’re suddenly playing for eight points. If you win the inning, you get all eight; if you lose, the other team only gets one point. (As they were already ahead by at least a point, that one run is plenty.)
Think about how awesome the last few innings would be. Imagine the NL is up, 4-2, after six. The AL decided to go without a left fielder, making it a two-point opportunity for them in the 7th — and loses the inning because of it. Down 5-2, they now have to go shorthanded in the 8th or 9th. It’s chaos, in a good way.
Automatic Runners, Come On Down
To further make the Match Play format work, we don’t want 0-0 innings — that’s boring! Each inning should earn someone at least one point. There aren’t a lot of great ways to guarantee that, though, so let’s go with the second-best way: automatic runners. All innings start with a runner on second.
I really don’t like the rule in real games. (I’d be OK with adding the automatic runner in the 12th, sure, but that’s a story for another day.) But this isn’t a real game. The automatic runner adds a sense of tension and urgency, particularly when every inning is, effectively, a mini-game within the game. But the real value is that we’ll end up with very few frames where neither team earns a point.
Get Fans Involved
In Banana Ball, if a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out. On the night of this year’s All-Star Game, that rule came into play in an actual Savannah Bananas game — and the tweet sharing the video has more than 3 million views. The team brought the fan on the field and she joined them for the post-game celebration. It was awesome and so much more fun than the actual All-Star Game.
Let’s try that rule out in the All-Star Game. Encourage fans to bring baseball gloves and train camera crews to follow the foul balls. And, if a fan catches the ball? Not only is it an out, but let’s bring them out during the 7th Inning Stretch (or post-game) to have the ball signed by the pitcher and batter.
The Game Doesn’t Have to Matter. It Has to Be Fun.
Five seconds after the All-Star Game ends, something strange happens: no one seems to care who won the game. It just doesn’t matter.
If the outcomes don’t matter, then the rules can be broken. So let’s break them — and make the All-Star Game fun again.Originally published on July 12, 2023