Competition and Fairness: History of the MLB All-Star Game

Since 1980, Major League Baseball and host-cities have done an amazing job at adding fan and television entertainment, player highlights and community service to the Midsummer Classic. In 2016, San Diego has done a magnificent job continuing this tradition by hosting a terrific week of events.

Speaking of the 2016 All-Star Game, what has history showed us? And, should we dare to suggest, how can we make the game better? Specifically, we are going to look at the pros, cons, and possible fixes to the All-Star Game.

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The Midsummer Classic has been a fan and player favorite since it was first played in 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played in that game, Lefty Gomez started, while John McGraw and Connie Mack managed. Four Hall of Fame inductees and we are not even into the rest of the line-ups.

In 1957, an interesting twist occurred prior to the All-Star Game that year:

Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot box and selected seven Reds and Stan Musial. This forced Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to step in and replace Wally Post and Gus Bell with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron that season and to turn over the starting lineup selection to players, coaches and managers for several subsequent seasons. Since 1970, the fans have elected the starting lineup of one player for each baseball position (except the pitcher) for both the National League and American League teams . . . The All-Star Game managers selected the entire lineups from 1933 to 1946. In 1947, the fans were given the ability to select the starting lineups.”

In 2002, we had the infamous tie-game at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a 7-7 ending. Interesting enough was ending an All-Star Game on a tie where the decision-makers stood around not knowing what to do, but more was that it happened under the leadership of then-Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig in the city where his baseball career began as an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Note: Selig initially purchased the Seattle Pilots of the American League and moved the team to Milwaukee after one season in Seattle; Milwaukee later moved to the National League in 1998.

As a result of the 2002 game, the home field advantage rule was instituted for the 2003 game and thereafter. The League-representative team that wins the All-Star Game now receives home field advantage in the World Series. For example, if the American League wins the All-Star Game, the American League team representative receives home field advantage in the World Series.

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The 2002 game was not the only tie All-Star Game. It also happened in 1961, a1-1 tie played at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, where rain ended the game after nine innings. However, did you know that from 1959-1962 two All-Star Games were played each year, one in a National League park, and the other in an American League park, in an effort to boost player earnings. Like before, these games were played midseason in July and August or in the month of July every year.

Dodger Maury Wills won the first-ever All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award given in 1961, in the game played at D.C. Stadium, home of the then-Washington Senators, for which sports writer Charles Dryden once quipped about the Washington franchise, “first in War, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

If you are wondering, the city of Brooklyn never hosted an All-Star Game.  Los Angeles has hosted two, one in 1959, and the second game being held in 1980. The 1959 All-Star Game was the first played on the West Coast, at Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, before Dodger Stadium was completed, and the same year the now-Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. No All-Star Game was held in 1945 because the Country was ending World War II in Germany and other parts of Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. Notably, the Giants organization has hosted All-Star Games in their stadium’s five-times. Questionably, the city of glamour, glitz, lights, and Hollywood has hosted two All-Star games and the most recent in 1980.


Not surprisingly, the 1980 All-Star Game, with major planning done by then-Dodgers Front Office Executive Fred Claire, changed the game forever as the City known for entertainment utilized it resources to put the show in “The Show.” Per Wikipedia:

“The pregame ceremonies of the All-Star Game featured Disney characters. Later, Edwards Air Force Base of Rosamond, California provided both the colors presentation and, after the Los Angeles All-City Band performed the Canadian and U.S. National Anthems, the flyover ceremonies. This All-Star Game marked the first nationally televised U.S. performance of O Canada after it had officially been designated the Canadian National Anthem earlier in July 1980. It also marked the debut of the modern day large-scale video screen, with the first such video scoreboard, Diamond Vision by Mitsubishi Electric, being introduced at this game.” [Note the Home Run Derby was added in 1985 with varying rules over the years].

In looking to present day 2016, there are several things we can determine from history. We can look back and collect information on what has happened and what we might change to make it better in the future. We have concluded that there are several major contentions among the players, fans, and front office personnel based on past controversy and current issues when it comes to the All-Star Game.

With anything in sports and life, there are two main, yet equally important principles. These two principles are competition and fairness. Sometimes these principles work together. Other times, they conflict with each other.

In the context of the All-Star Game, we can see that in 1933 Major League Baseball added competition to baseball by instituting the All-Star Game. In 1945, in a nod of fairness to our American soldiers fighting overseas, Baseball did not host an All-Star Game. From 1959-1962, again in an effort of fairness, Baseball played two All-Star Games each year to get the players more money in a time when many ballplayers worked offseason jobs to pay the bills.

In 1947, Baseball introduced the fan vote for fairness and quickly removed it for competition reasons in 1957. In 2016, we are still debating whether fans should vote since voter bias is a resulting factor in line-ups.

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In 1961, Baseball introduced the Most Valuable Award to add more competition to the All-Star Game. Sticking with 1961, the game ended in a tie. Fast forward to 2002, another tie game, and in an effort to add competition, Baseball introduces the home field advantage rule to make sure teams play to win labeling it “This Time It Counts” for the 2003 installment. A rule that stands today.

The debate continues as Major League Baseball looks at the pros and cons of the All-Star Game.  Specifically, three debatable topics come to mind.

  1. The Fan Vote – The best players should play and the players selected should play based on their statistics, not emotion or bias. What ever happened to one person, one vote. For a Country founded as a republic (representative democracy), fan votes should count once and only for reserves. Let the players, coaches, and front offices decide starting line-ups and make it so that they cannot vote for themselves, their teammates, or their organizational personnel. In some sense, voting should mirror our three branches of government with checks and balances. The fans are the House of Representatives, the baseball personnel act like the Senate to make up “Congress,” the Commissioner is the Judiciary, and the Players Association is the President. This change will honor both fairness and competition.
  2. Home Field Advantage Awarded to the Winning League Team – A terrific rule that honors competition, but takes away from fairness where players playing in the All-Star Game on losing teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs may have less incentive to win. However, we are talking about competitive athletes that are paid to win. It is a rule that has only seen competition increase and no game has ended in a tie since the rule was instituted. Some may argue that two have no connection, but the fact remains that no ties are good for competition and a sport losing to football in terms of the general attention span of peoples’ mind needed a boost.
  3. All-Star Game Played During the Middle of the Season – Speaking of football and the National Football League, Major League Baseball has presented a much better showcase of its best athletes, coaches, and managers through its annual All-Star Game when compared to the Pro Bowl based on three very important differences.

First, the MLB All-Star Game is played during the middle of the season when athletes are likely at their healthiest, sharpest, and motivated. The Pro Bowl is played in between the playoffs and the Super Bowl, when only two teams have made the cut and most have checked out of the competition.

Second, football plays its Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl in stadiums of the highest bidder that are generally neutral sites. Baseball circulates around the country based on stadium newness, nostalgia, and other financial factors and at the sites of the two teams that made the championship.

Third, baseball keeps track of its statistics in All-Star Games, showcases and highlights those stats, and reminds the fans of the same. Think about it, who won the Pro Bowl last year and who had the most receiving yards? It is more likely that a baseball fan would remember pitchers who struck out the side or Pete Rose crashing into to home plate for a close play.

With competition and fairness in mind, Baseball would be wise to place the World Baseball Classic during an extended All-Star Break, midyear, for similar results.  You can read more about that here.

Major League Baseball has preferred competition in putting together its All-Star Game’s and that is a good thing for the fans and the players. The balancing act continues, however, as injuries and player availability continue to drive the competition and fairness debate.

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.
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