Coming up on Tuesday, selected players from each league will come together to compete in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game. The game itself will be watched by many but cared about by few; its real value these days is in giving everybody something to talk about during the weeks leading up. We care less about the game, and more about who should and should not have been invited to play in it.
The popular sentiment is that the actual game is pretty pointless. It is very much not pointless, in that the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, but that's stupid, and I know there are a lot of people who would prefer that the league just skip the game entirely and simply name certain players as All-Stars. Being an All-Star could just be an award, like being an MVP or a Rookie of the Year. They don't make all the Gold Glovers play against each other.
But if you thought one All-Star Game was kind of a waste of time, I've got news for you. Or maybe I don't, but this was news to me, anyway, when I found out about it.
As I was exploring Baseball-Reference the other day for historical All-Star Game information, I scrolled down and happened upon 1962. That year, Baseball-Reference shows two All-Star Games. The same goes for 1961, 1960 and 1959. In 1958 and in all years before, there was the customary one game. In 1963 and in all years to follow, there has been the customary one game. But there, for a four-year period, Major League Baseball apparently decided to double up.
I'll allow the New York Times' Richard Sandomir to explain why this was:
But there was a simple and obvious reason to play two games: money.
It turns out the playing of the second game was intended to increase the amount of money going to the players' pension fund. I wish there were a neater reason than that. Like gambling demands, or a trial formation of an All-Stars League, which would be made up of two teams of All-Stars that played each other 100 times a season. But, nope. Pension fund.
Everybody realized by 1962 or so that the arrangement was dumb. Wrote John Drebinger:
"The public at large is finding a second all-star attraction something of an anticlimax, like playing a second World Series in Brazil," he wrote.
It was agreed to after the 1962 season that the players would receive more money from the first All-Star Game, and that the second would be dropped. But those four All-Star "double-headers" still happened, and they stand as a part of baseball's bewildering history of executive management.
The two annual All-Star Games, by the way, were managed by identical coaching staffs, and played by more or less identical rosters. In 1959, they were played 27 days apart. In 1960, they were played two days apart. In 1961 and 1962, they were played 20 days apart. They all took place in different stadiums, and one of them - the second game in 1961 - ended in a 1-1 tie.
Granted, these All-Star Games took place before interleague play, so it was more interesting back then to watch AL and NL foes face off. That said, they were still meaningless exhibitions - even more meaningless than they are today - so it's hard to imagine that anybody would've cared by the time the second game rolled around, when the novelty was gone. There would've been no purpose. No ties, no emotion. The second game was a game played for money, and not in the regrettably compelling way that today's reality television is just a genre of games played for money. It would've been pointless baseball, interrupting a long season of less pointless baseball.
So, Major League Baseball currently schedules one All-Star Game a year. I don't really like it. Many of you don't really like it. But lest you think this is as pointless as professional baseball gets, it's been more pointless before. For four years, Major League Baseball scheduled a second one of these, days after the first. It is, quite honestly, unpleasant to think about.