Who Are These People!!?!?!

You know the old adage “you can’t tell the players without a scorecard”?  Well, when it comes to this year’s MLB All-Star Game, that appears to be even a truer one than ever.

As CBS SPORTS’ reported yesterday afternoon:

As it stands, this particular All-Star Game will be full of first-time pitchers — 17 in all. That includes Pittsburgh Pirates righty Paul Skenes, who became the first player to be chosen No. 1 in one draft and then make the All-Star Game in the subsequent season, and Garrett Crochet, the breakout lefty for the Chicago White Sox who might be the best pitcher moved at the deadline. Including the reserves, 32 players have been named to their first All-Star Game this season.  

If you’re scoring at home, which if you’re going to invest in a scorecard you might as well at least try to do, that’s just about half of everyone who will be making the trip to Arlington’s Globe Life Field.

THE ATHLETIC’s impressive staff has had a field day attempting to educate the less passionate, or those solely focusing on “positivity streaks”, on why we should be invested in these insurgents.  Some do have some compelling stories.

For example, this note on an unlikely sparkplug behind the AL-best Cleveland Guardians from Zack Meisel:

He’s the only human being with a higher OPS than Aaron Judge. No one reaches base with more frequency. And unless you have tracked the wild ride of the 2024 Cleveland Guardians or you watched him star at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., or you work in the Milwaukee Brewers’ front office, you’re probably not familiar with David Fry.  He’s two years removed from being a Player To Be Named Later. He’s two months removed from the epiphany that altered the course of his season, and perhaps his career.

Or this one from the perpetually sardonic Bay Area scribe Grant Brisbee:

Heliot Ramos is an All-Star. The Curse of Chili is over.

Ramos, an outfielder drafted and developed by the San Francisco Giants, was named an All-Star reserve on Sunday. He’s the first homegrown outfielder to represent the Giants since Chili Davis (drafted in 1977) was selected as an All-Star for a second time in 1986 (he made his first team in 1984). Ramos was a roster afterthought when the season began, and now he’s an All-Star.

Or this one from the effervescent St. Louis-based Katie Woo:

It was early in spring training when St. Louis Cardinals manager Oli Marmol called Ryan Helsley into his office. Throughout the offseason, Marmol had been strategizing with pitching coach Dusty Blake and assistant pitching coach Julio Rangel on how to maximize the bullpen usage this year. That included Helsley, who had been one of baseball’s best relievers in 2022, but regressed in 2023.

The decision? It was time to change Helsley’s role. Much to Marmol’s pleasant surprise, Helsley was thinking the same thing.

After spending the last two seasons as a go-t0 relief arm for the game’s highest leverage situations, Helsley made the switch to a traditional closer’s role this year. Multiple factors from both parties led to the change, including availability, overall effectiveness, game planning and strategy. The fact that the Cardinals’ restructured bullpen has become one of the most dominant relief groups in the league, allowing for optimal matchups in late innings regardless of opponent, also factored in.

All of these, and more, have proven themselves enough with their peers, the source of their inclusion in the game. (Nowadays, not even the managers select the particpants beyond the starters, who have been selected by fans since 1970).  But for an exhibition game that was historically built upon the premise it was a game for the FANS, this sort of peer recognition hasn’t necessarily helped to grow either its popularity or relevance.

SPORTS MEDIA WATCH’s Jon Lewis covered this point extensively in his recaps of last year’s midsummer ratings:

Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game averaged a record-low 3.9 rating and 7.01 million viewers on FOX (7.09M across all platforms), down 7% from the previous lows set last year (4.2, 7.51M). All-Star viewership has now hit a new low in five of the past seven years the game has been played (2016, 2018, 2019, 2022, 2023). Less than a decade ago in 2014, the game averaged a 7.0 and 11.34 million.

It’s still a relative hit adjusted to the bell-shaped curve that is summer linear TV, as Lewis conceded:

The Midsummer Classic, which peaked with 7.57 million from 9:15-9:30 PM ET, remains the most-watched All-Star event in sports — ranking comfortably ahead of the second-place NFL “Pro Bowl Games” on ABC, ESPN and DisneyXD in January (6.28M), the previous night’s MLB Home Run Derby on ESPN and ESPN2 (6.11M) and the NBA All-Star Game on TNT and TBS in February (4.59M).

But the strict reliance on who may be statistically worthy over a three-month span, or simply someone who stuck out amongst his peers, might be costing the game, and the Game, opportunities to actually get these newbies the best chance to be discovered.  Fellow ATHLETIC scribe Chad Jennings was tasked with rattling off the long list of those more familiar names who will be taking a short vacation next week.  Lots of Mets and Yankees.  Some folks you’ve probably rooted for on your fantasy teams.  In my case, that’s certainly true.

I’d like to propose that given these realities that the reinstatement of something like the Final Player vote that allowed one additional reserve to be chosen by fans be considered.  Personally, I missed that wrinkle this year.  Those that were in contention for that short-window online vote seemed rejuvenated and recommitted to performing during what is otherwise a less intense week.  And since the rosters are bloated anyway due to MLB’s insistence that every team is represented, why not make it the top two or three?  It’s an exhibition game, de facto spring training.  A coupla more warm bodies won’t make things any more complicated, and knowing there’s someone the average fan might actually recognize could give more people a reason to tune in and actually stick around.

Remember, there’s always a Seinfeld rerun running somewhere to provide a familiar alternative.




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