I don't begrudge anybody the chance to take a couple of days off of work. I mean, I'm taking this afternoon off to drive to Chicago to hang out with Cee Angi and the dweebs from Fangraphs, and I'll probably take tomorrow off too, since it's the day before my birthday. So it doesn't bother me in the least that the All-Star break got extended to four days last year. I think it's great that most players get to spend extra time with their families in the middle of a long season. It's important to give them a chance to fly home, even for a short time, and recharge. It's one of the better developments to come out of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I'm glad the players negotiated for it.
That doesn't, however, change the fact that I'm sitting on my sofa on Wednesday night, typing this article, and there's no baseball on. It will be the same on Thursday; without baseball to entertain me, I'm forced to seek merriment elsewhere. Look, I get that I'm a creature of habit and relatively obsessive when it comes to watching baseball, or at least having it on in the background while I'm allegedly paying attention to my own family. But whereas the three-day All-Star break contained just a single day with no baseball-like substance that I could pretend was like a Monday or Thursday with a light slate of games, the four-day break is a seemingly uncrossable chasm of baseball-lessness. It drags on interminably, and makes me contemplate terrible ideas like "I wonder why people like soccer so much. Maybe I should watch a game." Or "When is Vikings mini-camp being held again?"
Baseball is a sport that thrives because it is played every day, in which each game rolls into the next and the narrative doesn't take a break. Except for now. Now, we've stopped, and given the chance to look around may not like what we see. We (ok, maybe just I) need that shiny distraction.
That's why, as a fan, I'd really like to rejigger the All-Star break. Again, I'm all for the four days off, but it seems ludicrous to waste more than 48 hours of perfectly good baseball-watching time, especially when baseball is just wasting The Futures Game by putting it up against actual MLB action on the Sunday before the break begins. The Futures Game is a tremendous missed opportunity every year, especially in this age where prospects are so well known and dissected before they step out on a major-league field. I went to the game at PNC Park in 2006 and had a blast, even though I came away more convinced that Humberto Sanchez was going to be a star (what? he struck out Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon) than Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Gordon, Billy Butler, Gio Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, Yovanni Gallardo, or Joey Votto, all of whom were also in that game (as were Hunter Pence, Neil Walker, Howie Kendrick, Yunel Escobar, Jaime Garcia, Jose Tabata, Homer Bailey, and Phil Hughes).
I think about giving guys like that some initial exposure on national TV and I get the shivers. Not only do these players deserve their own spotlight, but say you're a Twins fan, and you get a chance to see Miguel Sano or Byron Buxton early against the other great young players. Doesn't that get you excited? The best part of the Home Run Derby on Monday night was the brief highlight package of the High School Home Run Derby, and the reaction shots of players like David Ortiz and Torii Hunter to the bombs being hit by young kids. Can you imagine the reaction to watching Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout jump up and cheer for a player you know you'll get a chance to watch in a couple years? That builds major anticipation for what the game will be five years from now, when David Ortiz and Torii Hunter are gone, and people are looking for new stars to follow.
Moving the All-Star Game to Wednesday night also puts the Sunday starters, who currently don't pitch in the game, back into the action. We wouldn't expect the Tigers to refrain from starting Justin Verlander one extra time before the break, of course, but because they do, we're generally forced to watch inferior pitchers like Steve Delabar or Grant Balfour work an inning. All due respect to Misters Delabar and Balfour, but they don't build nearly the same level of excitement as Verlander or Adam Wainwright. Put the Sunday starters back in play and, in many situations, you change the complexion of the game immeasurably for the better.
It sounds simple, but I'm glossing over a couple of concerns. One, is that, while pushing the Derby and the All-Star Game itself back a day each may not seem like a huge deal, it does limit the ability of the All-Stars to spend extra time with their families. Now, I could use a few days off from my family every now and again, but keep in mind that some ballplayers are away from home for six months a year, if they don't live in the city where they play, and that eliminating the two-day window after the All-Star Game will probably prevent many from going home to visit. The other is that, outside of the All-Star break, players only get 18 days off during the year, and have to play every weekend. That's a hell of a grind. Over a half-a-year, the typical American worker will get something like 50-60 days off, counting up weekends and holidays and vacation time. Healthy ballplayers get less than a third of that.
But, and this is going to come off more class-warfarey than I want it to sound, ballplayers are extremely well-compensated for their time. Not only that, but their careers provide them with additional career opportunities that average Americans simply don't have. During the offseason, most players also get what is essentially a sabbatical. This isn't a complaint. I don't begrudge ballplayers that compensation or their time off, but there are tradeoffs and responsibilities that come with any job. Many work in lower-paying positions because they provide better benefits, pensions, and vacation. More availability and responsibility is typically expected out of higher-wage workers. In the grand scheme, it seems like asking for an extra day from ten percent of the players in a league in the middle of a season isn't a high burden, comparatively, especially when so many of the All-Stars actually fly their families in for the game and bring their kids on the field (which is so great; more of this please -- actually, if MLB wanted to investigate ways to make the All-Star break more family friendly for the players, I'd be all for it).
Look, it's only two days, and I'm already missing baseball like a pain. It's gnawing at me. I want to hear the familiar sounds of a ballpark, and the cadence of the announcer. I want to watch Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, and Matt Harvey. I don't think anybody owes me that extra day of baseball in the middle of the season, but I wouldn't be a fan if I didn't want it.
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