Commentary: Professional All-Star Games have become obsolete, so why are we still having them?
Thanks to our good ol’ friends at Nike, whom for 30 years, has been the king of sports commercial marketing, gave baseball one of its greatest catchphrases in modern history. And boy, oh boy, has Major League Baseball rode that horse like an outlaw crisscrossing the desert sands.
‘Chicks Dig the Long Ball’ was uttered by Greg Maddux back in a 1999 Nike commercial with then teammate Tom Glavine, one year after the Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire home run derby-esque marathon season and subsequently the same year as MLB broke the record for most home runs in a season (there was a combined 5,528 dingers hit that season) so of course Nike, doing what it does best, located a trend and made money from it. So did MLB.
Now, let’s be clear. The home run has been a part of baseball since it existed. Everyone knows George Ruth, the Great Bambino, more for what he did as a power hitter than his prowess on the mound (he had a career ERA of 2.28) or Josh Gibson, who as legend has it, hit a 580-foot blast over Yankee Stadium, because of their jacks. But when ‘Chicks Dig the Long Ball’ became part of our lexicon, it was in the climax of the ‘Steroid Era.’ Monday night, the 33-year-old tradition, the Home Run Derby, once again highlighted the All-Star break festivities. The glorified batting practice is the only true event of the ‘Midsummer Classic’ pre-game itself (unlike the NBA which has three) for fans to spend more time in the ballpark for. It use to be fun to watch; I loved the ‘98 and ‘99 derbys when Ken Griffey, Jr. took the crowns. (OK, I’m biased. Griffey, Jr. was one of my favorite players as a kid.)
But just like an open bottle of soda that stays in the fridge too long, everything surrounding the All-Star game, including the Derby, has gotten — stale. For two distinct reasons: 1) You can’t duplicate the excitement of a home run, slam dunk or three-pointer in the heat of competition and 2) these events don’t age well.
Earlier, I mentioned the NBA. It has an entire weekend dedicated for its all-star game. And what are the two main events? The Slam Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shootout. Remember the classic Slam Dunk duel between Michael Jordan and Dominque Wilkins in 1988? Or how about 5-foot-6 Spud Webb putting on a jump clinic in 1986? Or how about Larry Bird dominating the 3-Point Shootout three times? Then former MJ teammate Craig Hodges following that up two years later with three consecutive victories of his own?
It has been 18 years since Vince Carter’s smackdown of the competition in 2000, since the Dunk Contest captured our imagination. (How many times can we see the same dunk? And in the same breath, how many times can we see a 400-foot HR get hit, essentially, off a tee?) The Three-Point Contest has lost its luster since the 3-point shot itself has become so common a shot that you’ll be jettisoned out of the Association if you can’t make it. And the All-Star games themselves. You’ll see tougher competition during a Spades game.
Which circles back to these two nights, starting with the Derby and concluding with the All-Star Game. In fact, include every major all-star game (the NFL’s Pro Bowl as well) and at what point is feeding the masses hackneyed products going to end? And at what point are the masses (us, the consumer) going to realize that the food has lost its potency and isn’t worth feeding on any longer?
I’m all for midseason breaks. Let the players recoup and get ready for the second half of the season. I can stomach a few days of nothingness, rather than trying to swallow flat Pepsi.
Chris Harris can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ