The MLB All-Star Game used to be the main exhibition that sports fans would tune into with real interest up until around 2017. Unlike the rest of the major sports, there were VERY impactful stakes that took place during the game with consequences that would impact the postseason in October- home field advantage during the World Series was determined during this exhibition game. Therefore, unlike events like the NFL Pro Bowl where everyone sits out to avoid injury or the NBA All-Star Game where no one plays defense and you have Dwight Howard shooting three pointers just because he wants to, the idea that the best of the best in the league were playing on these superteams felt much more real, and the implications were monumental months from that game.
It was also a time where the players on the small market teams that got voted in had the opportunity to get some love on the big stage before the broadcasts were so easily-accessed through streaming services. If you were a fan of the Texas Rangers in 2006 and where the team wasn’t as widely-branded as a franchise like the Yankees or Red Sox, how cool was it to see Michael Young play with the league’s best and win the MVP that night? It was a rare platform for all of the stars of the game to be seen in a game that fans may or may not have access to on a regular basis.
However, though the pageantry remains, the game is no longer the same. The game no longer determines the World Series home field because we finally came to our senses and realized how absurd determining something that valuable in an exhibition game was. Fan voting determining the starters has become a bit of a sham. Every team HAS to have a representative at the game, which causes deserved roster spots to be denied all for the player on a team with a sub .500 record to come in for one inning. And the reality is that now with so much easy access to the games, it isn’t a rarity to see an out-of-market player any more; you can live in the middle of Montana and stream a Mets game to see Max Scherzer pitch on a Tuesday night every now and then via streaming. It’s still fun to watch a game in which the big names get to bat or pitch with one another, but it’s just become an idea of what it used to be.
That has only elevated how much fun the preceding night has become: the Home Run Derby.
Unlike the Slam Dunk Contest in recent years, it’s never lacked the star power- nearly every year some of the biggest names in baseball have competed in the event. It’s created so many romantic storylines, too- you have Pete Alonso going for the three-peat this year after having won the prize money on a salary less than what he makes during the regular season. We had Bryce Harper win in 2018 with his dad pitching to him on his own turf. We even had Shohei Ohtani last year participate and then go on to start the game as a pitcher the next day and bat leadoff, too. The stars don’t shy away from the electric contest (I promise this isn’t a shot at LeBron not doing the dunk contest wink).
There used to be a perception that it would ruin your swing in the second half after Josh Hamilton put on an absolute clinic in the 2008 derby, including 13 bombs in Yankee Stadium on consecutive swings, only to go into a slump afterwards. That stigma feels gone! Juan Soto, who is participating this year and hasn’t had a typical Juan Soto year thus far in Washington, claimed that the derby FIXED his swing in 2021 after he went on a hot streak and gained some confidence back. The idea that it’s detrimental for players to participate has been essentially debunked.
It also is just a fun change of tone in the game of baseball, that is rooted in statistics, traditions, strategy, and has a marathon-length pace in comparison to the other sports. It’s a night where the league lets their hair down! There aren’t any defensive shifts, pitching changes, or mound visits, you have superstars bopping to the hip hop music playing, other players videoing from the dugout with their kids grinning ear-to-ear donning a backwards cap as they see baseball hit to the moon, and it’s an incredibly uniting experience for the viewers getting to see homers to otherworldly lengths over and over again. The crowd is especially surreal because one side isn’t rooting for a miss, there isn’t any “us vs. them,” everyone is simply together in wanting to see a ball sent to the seventh fiery ring into another dimension. The collective gasps at seeing such physical feats together is why baseball was considered America’s pastime for so long, and it brings you back.
Tonight, the loaded lineup of the faces of the game will bring us all together once again and remind us how fun the sport can really be when you look in the right places. There’s more than enough storylines to go around! Pete Alonso going for the Three-PETE. Juan Soto wants to hit the longest opposite-field home run ever after coming up short in 2021. Kyle Schwarber is back after getting runner-up in 2018, and his bombs have carried the Phillies back to life. Albert Pujols is competing for the fifth time in his swan song season as an unkillable machine. Julio Rodriguez looks like the next Ken Griffey Jr. as an electric 21 year-old. Corey Seager is back at the ballpark of the team he won a World Series MVP with at Dodger Stadium. Ronald Acuna Jr. is back from injury and could potentially be the face of baseball with every pimped homer in his yellow padding. Jose Ramirez is the first ever GUARDIAN to participate, an AL MVP candidate, and one of the most-fun young personalities in sports.
We’re in for a summer night to remember.