By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Monday morning prior to the first bell to begin a new school week, a sophomore sulked into my classroom with all the distain a fifteen year old can have for a January Monday morning. He let his books slide from his arms with the delicacy of someone dropping a bag of dog crap into a park garbage can.
“Did you watch that Pro Bowl, Mr. Baffoe?”
Usually students have this sixth sense that tells them not to speak to me before coffee has worked its magic, not unlike a small mammal avoiding a crocodile as it gathers the morning. But I admired the lad’s gumption.
“I did,” I graveled.
A sophomore is well aware after three-plus semesters that I am not going to readily give my thoughts on whether Othello is at fault for his fate, who is the best choice for 2012 GOP candidate, or the significant sports stories of the weekend. By now any conversations contain an automatically implied “What do you think?” in the student’s direction.
So after getting the go ahead to talk more by my mere acknowledgement of him, the kid continued, “Man, that just sucked. Most of the players don’t even try. Why do they even play that thing?”
Before any further discussion could happen more teenage angst shuffled in the room, and my ear was no longer important. But I was given a bit of satisfaction and comfort that caffeine could not provide. The kid, as kids are wont to do (especially products of my classroom), saw through the BS.
Why do they even play that thing?
All-star games in pro sports are completely unnecessary. They began with MLB’s in 1933 and the other major pro leagues following in subsequent years. Many forget the reasoning behind their inceptions, though, was due to the lack of visual access to sports back then that we often take for granted now.
Until the creation of televised national games of the week and cable sports networks, players outside of a fan’s town were just mythic creatures, names and pictures in the paper for the most part. An all-star game was an opportunity to see these giants of the game for perhaps the only time all year.
But that novelty has worn off almost entirely. We have sports packages on our cable providers that can bring us every single game, and even without paying those few extra bucks there are still plenty of out of town games on basic cable and network TV every week. The internet can bring us pretty much anything we want, for better or for worse, and fantasy sports has made it so participants practically know every athlete’s favorite food and social security number.
There is no longer any mystique or awe in seeing that exotic outfielder from Seattle or the unstoppable quarterback from New Orleans, and the TV ratings are evidence of that. Sunday’s Pro Bowl ratings dropped 8.1 percent from 2011. There were just eleven million viewers for the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, a 9 percent decline from the previous year. Just 408,000 Americans watched the 2012 NHL All-Star Draft Show, and the game itself did just a 1.0 overnight rating in the U.S (about 1.1 million viewers). Only the NBA All-Star Game has seen a ratings increase—the 2011 game was up 37 percent in viewership from 2010, with the solid crop of young stars and interesting storylines of last season most likely the reason.
People don’t care anymore. And who can blame them? No sane person wants to watch an exhibition game in the middle of the season anymore. They are more fodder for mockery than anything else.
Player apathy certainly does not help the games’ causes. To a man, most athletes would tell you they don’t care about their respective all-star game and that their only vested interest would be a financial bonus. Younger players who have yet to be selected as an all-star are excited, but give them a few years and it becomes more of a chore than an honor.
Players then bow out with supposed injuries that would not keep them from playing in a regular season game. But it’s an honor to be selected, right?
Fan voting is involved in the selection of rosters for all these games, which makes every all-star team automatically flawed. Yao Ming somehow was named starting catcher for the National League one year, I believe. The majority of fans are ignorant of who deserves recognition of being the game’s best, and every year in these games there are players with no business being there and deserving guys sitting at home.
And don’t give me the “the game is for the fans, so they should be selecting the teams” garbage. The fans aren’t watching anymore, remember? Coaches and peers and sometimes my fellow media cretins know who is the best, not fans.
Three of the leagues have somehow managed to make their formatting work against them. MLB has the absolute worst rule in sports—that an exhibition game determines home field advantage in its championship series. “It counts,” say proponents of that format.
No, it sucks. Home field between the Phillies and Yankees should not come down to a matchup between a pitcher from the Pirates and a hitter from the Royals. Also, fans vote in guys, so the teams are not the best of the best to begin with, yet they are allowed to affect actual teams in real games? Oh, Selig logic…
I give the NHL credit for mixing up the traditional format and embracing the spirit of fantasy sports, but if two guys from my favorite team are on opposing teams in the All-Star Game, who am I rooting for? And forgive me, but saying Team Chara and Team Alfredsson hurts my tongue. Also, no professional hockey game should have twenty goals scored.
And when leagues have to adjust formats of these games, that means they really aren’t working in the first place and probably should cease to exist.
The NFL decided to combat player apathy by moving the Pro Bowl to the week between conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Now, though, no players from the two best teams in the league are represented because of injury risk. My student was right—most players do not really try in the game. Practices have more intensity.
The NBA has screwed up their game format the least, I guess, but with the lockout-shortened season the All-Star Game will be played just two months after the first regular season games. The fan ballot closes after Tuesday, furthering fan fallibility by making them determine the league’s best after barely over a month of play.
And on a very selfish note, the music acts for all these contests are consistently awful. I don’t know what Hot Chelle Rae is, but I am in favor of it being tried for war crimes.
And the skills competitions have grown blah as well. Call me jaded, but I know Derrick Rose can dribble around stuff really fast and make nice passes BECAUSE I SEE HIM DO THAT IN GAMES. If you get excited over guys hitting batting practice over the fence you probably get excited over new Jerry Bruckheimer films. Yay, superfluous explosions!
So viewers don’t care, the players don’t care, and the music is bad. I’m sure it’s about making leagues and TV networks money, but do you really care about that?
So, to my student, who should be reading Bernard Malamud’s The Natural in preparation for his upcoming test instead of this, I agree. These games do suck.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.