If baseball wants to increase interest in the All-Star Game for both the fans and the players, there is a radical yet simple solution, but it requires Bud Selig to look across the ocean.
MLB All-Stars vs. Japanese League All-Stars.
While the NFL and its players continue to mull the cancellation of their Pro Bowl due to the lack of interest, Major League Baseball has taken the opposite approach and has gone to great lengths in an attempt to return their mid-summer classic to prominence.
In 2006, Selig tried to artificially increase interest by giving the winner home-field advantage in the World Series. It was a solution that was only slightly less arbitrary than the “alternating years” system that served as the previous method.
Importing All-Stars from Japan’s Nippon Professional League would create genuine interest from both fans and the players.
Here’s how it works.
There would be two games involving four teams consisting of players from MLB’s two leagues as well as the two leagues in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.
The American League All-Stars would play Japan’s Pacific League All-Stars on one night and the National League would play the Central League All-Stars on a second night. Like the AL, the Pacific League uses the DH, while the Central League mimics the NL with no DH.
Why it works.
With around-the-clock highlight shows, websites, and the ability to watch any game and any player, baseball’s best players are no longer a mystery seen just a handful of times per season. By importing Japan’s All-Stars, American fans are introduced to players and a style of baseball that is not available to them on a nightly basis, from a country that has a passion for baseball no longer seen here.
Baseball would also be able to infuse some of the nationalistic pride that is usually reserved for larger international competitions.
The format would also be a huge revenue stream for MLB, with not only the introduction of a second game in the United States, but also the introduction of two games to Japanese markets that would be a huge hit.
Meanwhile, Japanese players will be interested and will want to prove themselves against the best players in the world, and MLB players will want to prove that they are the best and won’t want to lose to the perceived inferior players.
Pride would be on the line.
It’s not perfect.
Ideally the format would be a single game of All-Stars. However, the players’ union will not want to reduce the number of All-Stars to a single squad, so two games would be required.
The NPB would likely also lobby to have the MLB All-Stars travel to Japan to play the games, at least occasionally. However, teams are not going to want to have their players travel all the way to Japan and potentially suffer the effects of jet lag when they return.
At the same time NPB owners may have the same trepidation. However, there is more of an upside to them in terms of exposure of the Japanese game and its players and the huge amount of money generated from posting fees paid by MLB teams for Japanese players. MLB would also compensate NPB with a share of the increased revenue.
It’s not perfect and it may not work forever. But the current format is not working a radical solution is needed.
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