By Andrew Kahn
This weekend’s games are the last before the All Star break, the quietest period on the sports calendar. The 88th All Star Game will take place in Miami on Tuesday (7:30 ET, FOX). The rosters are mostly set, though fans can vote until late Thursday afternoon for the final spots. Extra pitchers and injury replacements have pushed the number of players who can call themselves All Stars into the 80s in recent years. For much of the game’s history, only 30 or so players were All Stars.
That’s not to say the honor holds less significance now than it used to. Willie Mays, for example, played 22 seasons. Take a minute to guess how many times he was an All Star. The answer: 24. That’s because from 1959 to 1962, Major League Baseball held two All Star Games.
The purpose, according to a 2008 New York Times story, was to increase money in the players’ pension fund. In 1959, the first All Star Game was on July 7th in Pittsburgh and the second was on August 3rd in Los Angeles. The next year the games were separated by just two days in July; in the two years after that, there were 20 days between games. Someone like Mays—and Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle, to name two others—played in all of them, accumulating eight All Star appearances in a four-year span.
Although one per season is enough, baseball’s All Star Game is the best of any major sport because it resembles an actual regular season game. That being said, there are ways the game could improve. Rosters need not be bloated if free substitutions were allowed. In other words, a player who is removed in the third inning could return in the eighth. This would allow managers to get everyone in the game and make sure the best players were on the field at the end.
Even though this is the first year since 2006 that the game won’t determine home field advantage—a long-overdue reversal of a misguided policy—fans still deserve a competitive game among the sport’s elite. And, if possible, we’d prefer the starters not be on the bench for the final outs.
Another change that would be interesting to see is aluminum bats for Monday night’s Home Run Derby (8:00, ESPN). Before you assume fans would be seriously injured by such a change, consider that a 1977 research paper concluded that the exit velocity of an aluminum bat was about 3.85 miles per hour faster than a wood bat.
I reached out to Joseph Crisco at Brown University, who has studied the topic more recently, and here is what he wrote back: “There’s no such thing in my opinion as a ‘safe’ speed below which there will be no injuries and above which you will have injures. There are too many confounding factors that preclude a single threshold speed, and injuries can/have occur with wood.”
When I attended the Derby in 2013, MLB allowed two top high school sluggers to face off in their own competition. They used metal bats. And the college derby uses them as well. If MLB made the change, perhaps the kids who shag balls in the outfield should stay home. But I’d love to see how far Aaron Judge could hit a baseball with a more forgiving bat.
Lastly, a note on All Star Game results. The American League won 12 of the first 16 games, starting with the first-ever contest in 1933. The Senior Circuit won 19 of 20 from 1963 to 1982. And from 1996 to 2009, the American League never lost. Currently, the AL is on a four-game win streak. Add it all up and the National League has 43 wins to the American League’s 42, with two ties. The NL leads by just one in total runs scored as well, 360 to 359.
**UPDATE: 3:50 pm- A previous version of this article stated that the MLB needed to implement a DH for both leagues. The league did in fact do this with an update to the rules a few years ago.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn