Baseball quietly did something smart and overdue this past winter, marking a small victory for sanity. The All-Star Game was rescued and returned to its proper raison d'etre — its reason for being.
For the past 14 seasons Major League Baseball tried to unnecessarily legitimize its Midsummer Classic by making it “count.” The league that won the ASG would illogically and undeservedly enjoy the home-field advantage in the World Series.
Now, again, as it had been since the White House of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that advantage once again will properly go to the American League or National League champion with the better regular-season record.
Imagine that! A team earning that edge over 162 games’ work, rather than lucking into it because, on one night in July, a random player likely not even on that team happened to get a hit or allow one.
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So the All-Star Game is once more all it should be, which is plenty: Simply a pageant. A showcase. Something entirely ceremonial that reminds us why baseball is entrenched in the psyche as our National Pastime even as it has been lapped by football in popularity and by basketball on the hip-o-meter.
Out of its shackles, the All-Star Game is once again free to be more than just a stage for players who have performed the best over the previous 12 weeks. The occasion should be bigger than that. It should not be a slave to statistics or fan votes. It should incorporate history and heritage – the one thing this sport still has over all others.
That brings us to this 88th All-Star Game, the first hosted by Miami, the big night unfurling July 11 at Marlins Park, one night after the Home Run Derby.
The timing — the chance for the ASG to celebrate its freedom — is perfect, and it can be done with a single word.
Make him a part of this game. Make it happen, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Ichiro deserves it, and I don't care how much he's playing for the Marlins (not a lot) or what his batting average is (it was .210 as of this writing).
He deserves a piece of this stage, for likely the last time. Baseball deserves to see him on it. Fans deserve to experience the chills as he is introduced as a pinch-hitter late in the game in his home park, enters the box with that iconic frozen upright-bat pose of his and then, if the baseball gods are smiling, slices a single to right field.
(Our scenario is hardly far-fetched, considering Ichiro led all the majors with 12 pinch hits when last I checked).
See, this is what the All-Star Game should always be about and can be again: Not about the score or who wins, but about snapshots. Sounds. Moments. Memories.
Willie Mays in 1973. Yaz in ’83. Players great and beloved and on the doorstep of retirement should always be welcomed to enjoy the safe haven of a curtain call in the All-Star Game.
Ichiro is one: Ichiro Suzuki, first ballot Hall of Famer, .312 career hitter, national hero of Japan and adopted musuko (son) of Miami, for whom he achieved his 3,000th MLB hit.
It is a long shot the Marlins will have him back next season. He will be 44 by next spring. The odds are great his career in baseball is down to its last few months. With Miami all but certain to not make the playoffs, this All-Star Game could be a final national gesture of appreciation for a player worthy.
The Marlins will be pretty well-represented All-Star Week.
The July 9 Futures Game will include two Fish minor-leaguers, pitcher Tayron Guerrero and third baseman Brian Anderson, both from Double A Jacksonville.
The July 10 Home Run Derby will include defending champion Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour.
The July 11 All-Star Game — still the week's main stage, athough the Derby has become just as anticipated — will include Marcell Ozuna as a voted-in outfield starter, and Stanton as a reserve for the National League team.
We're dreaming, maybe, that Ichiro might somehow be included, but there is at least a greater chance now that there was when home-field advantage in the World Series was inexplicably tied to the Midsummer Classic.
The All-Star Game once again is free to be about history and heritage, about moments and memories and, yes, about sentiment and emotion.
Ichiro should be there. Whether he is or not, perhaps the chant of his name might materialize in the Miami night and float like magic into the air.