Bryce Harper's Idea to Improve the All-Star Game Is a Non-Starter


Bryce Harper, in his ongoing quest to modernize the game of baseball, floated a tweak to the All-Star Game.

“It’d be great if let’s say the two leading vote-getters by the fans did a draft system and could pick from both sides,” he said Monday. “So I could be facing Max Scherzer today — I mean, nobody sees that. It would be a lot of fun to do something like that to make it a little more competition to face somebody on your team, like if [Clayton] Kershawwas facing Justin Turner, or Chris Sale facing Mookie Betts. That’d be a lot of fun.”

The NHL has used this process in the past while the NFL’s Pro Bowl also had a recent period where sides were picked by former players. You know, the NHL and NFL, whose All-Star games can come and go without the casual sports fan noticing, though not entirely because of the format.

While Harper is well-intentioned, overhauling the most venerable of All-Star games is not a project that should be taken likely. And even a cursory cost-benefit analysis yields a conclusion that a player draft is too dramatic a change with too little upside to explore.

Letting Harper and Aaron Judge choose up sides like stickballers in a Brooklyn alley has a certain charm. But in the end, the primary joy would be for the players participating. The teammate-on-teammate matchups would be fun for the players involved — and certainly, for the fans of that team to a lesser extent — or we could just wait a few years and see them happen in a game that counts thanks to free agency.

Baseball’s All-Star Game has always, and should always be, about the fans first. It is an honor for players to be selected, but an inconvenience for them to participate. But they typically do, as a matter of duty and respect to the fans who voted them in. There is no groundswell movement to stray from the American League playing the National League.

Perhaps more importantly, Harper’s idea serves as a microcosm of the crossroads baseball finds itself. A player draft would be new and somewhat exciting. It would also alienate fans who have grown comfortable and appreciate the tradition of the Junior and Senior Circuits facing off. New innovations may bring younger fans into the fold while at the same time cause some traditionalists to sour. A careful line must be walked to please both sides.

Even things that appear simple on the surface — like the rules of an exhibition game — are cakes baked over decades. Altering the recipe is going to result in a different taste profile. Even if it proves more delicious, some people prefer what they grew up eating.

This shouldn’t discourage Harper and others who want to tweak things to stop floating ideas. The best ones will hopefully survive vetting and improve the game. This just isn’t one of them.