Baseball's All-Star Game most definitely still matters
Popularity of Final Vote, World Series home field prove Midsummer Classic's worth
So was it LeBron James, and then the Final Vote?
Or was it the Final Vote, and then LeBron?
Whatever the order, here's what we discovered this week through the Cracker Jack-flavored tweets of social media: The Major League Baseball All-Star Game still matters, and it does so big time. We know this, because the Final Vote spent the last few days sprinting around the bases toward scoring the winning run among Twitter followers. In fact, the Final Vote trended more during its last afternoon Thursday than just about anything in cyberspace, and that included LeBron at times.
Trending? Twitter? Cyberspace? There goes another myth that baseball doesn't keep up with the times. To the chagrin of some of us traditionalists, baseball added more Wild Card teams -- and Wild Card teams, period. There is Interleague Play throughout the season. There is expanded replay. There even are lights in Wrigley Field. Mostly, there isn't a reason for folks to insist the game is operating in the dark ages, not unless they choose to ignore the several million people who spent much of this week typing things into their electronic devices such as #PickRick, #VoteJUP and #TargetSale.
Those hashtag items on Twitter represented Final Vote candidates. There was a group of five players from each the National and American Leagues, and much of the universe (at least the part that was tweeting, re-tweeting or sort of thinking about it) watched those several million folks push aside thoughts of LeBron's latest decision to study, then discuss and then pick the player they wanted for the last roster spot of that player's respective league at Tuesday night's All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
Contrary to the whispers that have become shouts over the decades among baseball bashers, the All-Star Game still matters, all right.
Two words: Derek Jeter. Officially, he is the Yankees' Captain. Unofficially, he has been baseball's greatest ambassador inside and outside of the foul lines for most of his two decades in the Major Leagues. Come to think of it, Jeter has been more significant than that. If you combine his Hall of Fame numbers as a shortstop with his five World Series championship rings and sterling reputation away from the diamond, he is one of the most beloved athletes in sports history. He is retiring after this season. He already has been hugged in every city he has visited for the last time. So, since this is his last All-Star Game, more than a few folks will be clicking their remotes Tuesday night to view it all.
Did I say baseball All-Star Games still matter?
Think Jeter, and now think Cal Ripken Jr., whose farewell season was 2001, when he played his last All-Star Game in Seattle. There was two-fold drama for this noted iron man of the Orioles, and it began before the first pitch after AL shortstop Alex Rodriguez exchanged positions with Ripken at third base to bring Ripken back to his shortstop roots. Then the man of the moment homered on the first pitch during his first plate appearance.
Jeter will become Ripken next week in his own way. I don't know when, and I don't know how.
I just know. You also should know. That's because everything around the All-Star Game still matters, along with the nearly 30-year-old Home Run Derby, which is an extension of the game itself. Unlike the NBA that struggles to get stars to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest during its All-Star Game Weekend, baseball has many of its premier sluggers in the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby. They include Giancarlo Stanton and Yasiel Puig, masters of rocket shots toward the farthest black hole, and Josh Donaldson, who joins Stanton (21) with at least 20 homers already in this Year of the Pitcher.
In addition to the Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game FanFest also is huge and popular as a baseball fantasy world for fans. There is the Futures Game that showcases stars to come, the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, a concert and the Red Carpet Show before the game. But it's all about the primary game, and those who contend that it doesn't matter keep confusing baseball's All-Star Game with its historically irrelevant counterparts from the other four major professional leagues in North America.
Quick: Name your favorite Pro Bowl.
See what I mean? The NFL's All-Star contest is such an afterthought among players and fans that there remains talk among officials in that league of killing it. Elsewhere, the All-Star Games associated with the NBA and NHL resemble the Pro Bowl in that they really aren't games. It's difficult to say what they are. Not only do they rarely feature defense, they lack true offense. The same goes for any sense of strategy, enthusiasm and charisma.
Baseball's All-Star Game has all of that, and it began with the legendary likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx during the first one in 1933. They made the whole thing magical forever. Cal Hubbell striking out five consecutive Hall of Famers. Ted Williams skipping around the bases after a game-winning homer. Pete Rose slamming through Ray Fosse at home plate for an NL victory. Reggie Jackson's rocketing a shot off a light tower at Tiger Stadium. Dave Parker making a throw for the ages from right field.
Moments. There always are moments at baseball's All-Star Games, and none surpasses that impromptu tribute to Williams before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. Half of New England gathered around the pitcher's mound for a group hug of the Red Sox legend. Actually, it was just current baseball legends doing the honor, but it seemed like more.
Then came last year, when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera played his last All-Star Game along the way to retirement. He didn't know he was about to produce moist eyes throughout Citi Field in New York. He was sent to the pitcher's mound to start the eighth inning, but nobody else took the field.
He was a man alone ... with endless cheers.
Baseball's All-Star Game still matters for those reasons and that other one: The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.