Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues around the world, has been shut down indefinitely because of the growing threat that is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Spring training has been suspended and Opening Day has been pushed back to at least mid-May, and that remains subject to change as the situation develops.
At some point there will be baseball again, and I'm hopeful there will be baseball in 2020. MLB won't punt an entire season's worth of revenue unless absolutely necessary. Even if they have to play games without fans in the stands, they'll do it.
Whenever baseball does return,. Among them is what to do with the All-Star Game. The longer the season is delayed, the less feasible playing the Midsummer Classic becomes. MLB may need to use that week to make up regular season games.
Rather than cancel the All-Star Game, I offer an alternative: All-Star Opening Day. Whenever the season begins, I propose the first event should be the All-Star Game. A grand event to celebrate the return of baseball seems appropriate at a time like this, and I think an All-Star Opening Day would create more excitement than 15 games scattered across the country.
MLB's priority will be marketing the game following the long layoff. They'll want to lure existing fans back -- I'm a die-hard fan and I'm not going anyway, but what about casual fans who lose interest in the sport during the shutdown? -- and cultivate new fans. The various sports leagues are facing multiyear recoveries. This is a good way to start it.
I should note there is precedent (somewhat) for starting the season with an All-Star Game. The 1981 work stoppage split the season into two halves ---- and MLB kicked off the second half with the All-Star Game. It was a great way to get fans back into the sport. It worked before. It can work again.
Let's talk through the details of my proposed All-Star Opening Day, shall we? Let's get to it.
The All-Star Game typically rewards players for great first halves. Occasionally we'll see a lifetime achievement selection, particularly with the fan voting, but usually the players who had the best first halves find themselves in the All-Star Game. It's fine.
We don't have any first half stats to build our All-Star Opening Day rosters, unfortunately. Because this is a marketing event, I say take the best and biggest name players, and don't sweat recent production (i.e. last season or even spring training). Get the players fans want to see -- the players the league will build around going forward -- and market the hell out of them.
My proposal: American League vs. National League, with each MLB team sending one position player and one pitcher. That gives us 30-man rosters with 15 pitchers and 15 position players. My proposed rosters:
|AL Team||Position Player||Pitcher||NL Team||Position Player||Pitcher|
Feel free to quibble with my selections. Can't go wrong with Betts or Cody Bellinger, and I went with Strasburg over Max Scherzer because I think it's important to get the World Series MVP involved. Injuries may complicate things ( , , etc.), though I think MLB should have the biggest names there for pregame introductions. It's not like all 30 pitchers will pitch, you know?
The big names are obviously important. People will want to see Trout, Yelich, Cole, so on and so forth. It's also important to attract fans in Japan (Darvish, Ohtani, etc.), South Korea (Choi, Ryu, etc.), Canada (Soroka, Votto), the Netherlands (Bogaerts), Australia (Hendriks), even Hawaii (Yates). MLB should try to reach as many fans as possible with this All-Star Opening Day.
Getting the fans involved
Want people to pay attention to All-Star Opening Day? Give them a way to get involved. MLB does this now with fan voting for the All-Star Game starters. We've already selected the rosters, but we can still let fans vote for the starting position players. Let them pick between Baez and Tatis for NL starting shortstop, Chapman and Vlad Jr. for AL starting third base, etc.
Fans deserve to have a say in the All-Star Opening Day. Without them, this sport doesn't exist, and MLB has to let them know their presence and input is valued. The fans won't get to vote on the rosters in my scenario, but they will get the pick the starters, and that's pretty cool.
Make it as fan friendly as possible
Before the shutdown, we experienced the magic of mic'd up players in spring training.. . Want to attract people to the sport? Let them get to know the players on a more intimate level. Mic'd up players are a must.
(Archer and Gordon are no longer the players they were a few years ago, but they are smart and funny, and would be great with a microphone in the dugout. That's why they're on my All-Star Opening Day rosters. MLB would be wise to let its players show some personality. Could be cool.)
I also think it would be worthwhile to get a few iconic players involved. Would Ichiro Suzuki coach third base for the AL team in a Mariners uniform? ? Guest manager Ken Griffey Jr.? David Ortiz has made really great speeches at Fenway Park over the years. Ask him to do it again before All-Star Opening Day.
Also -- this really should go without saying -- MLB needs to make this event accessible. Fox broadcasts the All-Star Game each year and they'd presumably do it again in 2020. In addition to the television broadcast, MLB needs to stream it online as well. For free. That last part is important. Free. $0. Get as many eyeballs on the sport as possible.
Picking a location
The Dodgers are currently scheduled to host the 2020 All-Star Game and I can't think of a better location for an All-Star Opening Day. It's an iconic ballpark, the weather is all but guaranteed to be spectacular,. Dodger Stadium is one of baseball's crown jewels.
At the same time, we should also consider other locations. Los Angeles is a long trip for players on teams that hold spring training in Florida. A park more centrally located may work better, logistically. The Rangers are opening a new ballpark this season. How about showing off brand new Globe Life Field during the All-Star Opening Day? That's an option too.
MLB also needs to be fair to the Dodgers. The Dodgers may not want to use their All-Star Game bullet on a hastily slapped together Opening Day event. They may prefer a traditional All-Star experience -- that includes the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby, and associated events -- in the future to an All-Star Opening Day now.
In a perfect world, the game would be played at Dodger Stadium. If the logistics are too difficult, then I say go with Wrigley Field. It's centrally located, it's iconic, it was recently renovated, and the Cubs are a recent World Series winner. Wrigley Field checks all the boxes. (Since the season is not starting until at least May, Chicago weather shouldn't be too much of an issue.)
What about Opening Day?
I think it would be important to have the traditional Opening Day immediately following the All-Star Opening Day. Give me All-Star Opening Day one night, then a full 15-game slate the next day beginning at 1 p.m. ET and continuing deep into the night. Avoiding an off-day between the All-Star Game and Opening Day feels paramount. Ride the momentum and give fans baseball ASAP.
Of course, this creates a problem for our All-Star players. They have to travel to join their teams, and expecting them to fly out after the All-Star Game and play the next day is unrealistic. Because of that, I say all All-Star players get the next day off for travel. It's not ideal, I know, but each team would be without their stars, so the playing field is level. Every team will be without someone.
We don't know when baseball will return, but whenever it does, welcoming fans back with an All-Star Game and mic'd up players and guest coaches feels like a worthwhile endeavor. Some sacrifices will have to be made to make it happen (players have extra travel, etc.), and that's life. This is for the greater good of the sport following the long shutdown.