Column

Spitballing: All-Star Week is not that deep, except for when it is

The event is supposed to be fun and low-stakes. It was — for the most part.

sports, column, baseball

Upon the conclusion of the first round of the 2021 Home Run Derby, I thought it was inevitable that this MLB All-Star Week would wind up as one of the greatest in the sport’s history.

And the Falcons led Super Bowl LI 28-3, and the Warriors had a 3-1 lead, and Bill Buckner had a routine ground ball.

That’s not to say the remainder of the two-day event at Coors Field was boring — it’s baseball, so that can’t be, I say unironically (no, seriously) — but from an objective standpoint, the tone-setter didn’t exactly maintain.

Let’s start with the first round, where Trey Mancini and Matt Olson got the night started with an instant classic. Mancini, the best storyline of a Home Run Derby that included Shohei Ohtani and hometown guy Trevor Story, blasted 24 homers. Olson then came up just short with 23 — evidently deciding, along with his subpar pitcher Eric Martins, that he wouldn’t try to use the final four seconds (plus a fair amount of leeway) to blast a 24th — and got eliminated accordingly.

Then Story hit a pedestrian 20 bombs before the opposing Joey Gallo hit an even more pedestrian 19, immediately busting my god-awful bracket that never had a chance anyway. Pete Alonso, who actually thinks he’s not a huge dork, walloped a staggering 35, and Salvador Pérez impressively hung in there by blasting 28. It should’ve advanced both to the next round, but the Royals catcher instead got screwed by the bracket-style format whose implementation is an underrated aspect of commissioner Rob Manfred’s disastrous tenure. Finally, Ohtani and Juan Soto had a matchup for the ages, going into double-overtime before Soto knocked off the two-way star in a swing-off, probably causing ESPN to collectively punch the air mid-broadcast.

And then Alonso beat Soto, Mancini topped Story, Alonso happily nodded his head to internalized rap music while some injured kid got carried off the field and the Mets first baseman proceeded to beat a cancer survivor who literally everyone wanted to win, capturing his second consecutive derby crown.

It was very “whatever,” and the All-Star Game followed suit. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a ball to outer space that’s probably still in orbit. He later won All-Star Game MVP, his case furthered by a glorious RBI groundout. The Best Catcher In Baseball, J.T. Realmuto, homered. So did Mike Zunino. Ohtani pitched a scoreless first inning and grounded out twice. Corbin Burnes threw two innings despite pitching poorly. Fernando Tatís Jr. went 0-for-2.

But luckily, in a game where the players on the field couldn’t provide much consistent entertainment, the broadcast did.

That’s the thing about the All-Star Game — and it’s part of the reason it became about one million times better when MLB finally decided to remove its World Series implications: The game can be a snoozer, but it’s still awesome.

Hearing No. 1 Tatís fan Charlie Freeman’s dad, some 6-foot-5 guy who won an MVP last season, mic’d up and worrying about Aaron Judge reaching first base because it would make him look small was wildly entertaining. Xander Bogaerts was pretty boring when he was mic’d up during his first-inning at bat, but the concept was cool, and Tatís was fun (as always) when he did the same in the third. We found out that micing up pitchers is a terrible idea — especially when that pitcher is a nutcase like Liam Hendriks — but hey, at least we tried.

And that’s precisely the point of the All-Star Game. It’s supposed to be fun. The presentation is the point; the game is an added bonus. Who cares if Bogaerts couldn’t quite lock in exactly the way he wanted with Joe Buck chirping in his ear the whole at bat? Who cares if Tatís had to witness an opposing player (Guerrero) go yard while talking to the broadcast crew at shortstop? Who cares if every single player interviewed during the course of the several-hour coverage was asked more about Ohtani than about themselves? (Actually, me. That was overkill.)

The point of the All-Star Game is the low stakes. The game means nothing. It was nearly as uneventful as a game can be, but that hardly took away from the show.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. All-Star Week had its rather sobering moments. Three men were arrested for possessing 16 long guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition last Friday at a hotel in Denver near Coors Field, causing authorities to fear a potential “Las Vegas”-style incident — and though they said there was no evidence of a direct threat to the All-Star Game, it’s easy to imagine. Stephen A. Smith said on First Take that Ohtani was an unideal candidate to be the face of baseball because he needs an interpreter. And during the game, the Republican National Committee ran an ad that reminded us why the All-Star Game took place in Denver in the first place and not Atlanta. (A singular point was made, actually — one I elaborated on months ago.)

Yes, the All-Star Game was fun, but it also provided a platform for sports media, MLB and the country to display some rather unfortunate tendencies. Those, we should take seriously. The in-game entertainment, not so much.

Because in the grand scheme of things, micing players up on the field during an exhibition game isn’t exactly the end of the world. Let’s have a little fun. It’s baseball, after all.