The last All-Star Game that mattered to me happened in 1989. I was eight years old living in Des Moines, Iowa, and Bo Jackson was a god.
Finding baseball on television was never easy for me. I did not have cable television so there was sometimes a game of the week on one weeknight and usually a game on Saturday or Sunday. The match-ups were preselected and I might only get to see a particular team once or twice per year. There were no local games on my television, although the kids with cable could watch the Cubs on WGN and the Braves on TBS. If I was lucky I could catch a few highlights on This Week in Baseball. I listened to a lot of games on the radio in bed, trying not to fall asleep. Aside from the limited national selection, the All-Star Game and the playoffs were my only opportunities to watch Major League Baseball.
I was never a Royals fan, and I didn’t like the Raiders at all, but I loved Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson and his "Bo Knows" campaign were everywhere in a time without a 24/7 media. There were no regional sports networks. ESPN did not even begin broadcasting baseball until 1990. That same year, People named Bo Jackson to their "25 Most Intriguing People" list. He was the only athlete featured and the magazine wrote he is "the most persuasive athlete-salesman alive." When NBC aired a cartoon in 1991 starring three sports stars they chose Wayne Gretzky: Greatest of All Time, Michael Jordan: Greatest of All Time, and Bo Jackson: two sport spectacle. ESPN's 30 for 30 "You Don't Know Bo" attempts to explain the Bo Jackson phenomenon. Yasiel Puig is fantastic, but I've already watched more games Puig has played in, than I have of Bo Jackson's entire career. It was Bo's individual exploits crossing two sports and the commercials that followed him that made him a star: a 91-yard touchdown run on Monday night football, climbing up the outfield wall while making a catch, and the 1989 All-Star game.
Bo Jackson led off that All-Star Game and immediately crushed a 450-foot bomb. That feat made that All-Star game matter to an eight-year old in Iowa. Since that game, there have been memorable All-Star moments, but most of those occurred before the game even began. Ted Williams and the All-Century Team in Boston, the parade of Hall of Famers in New York, and the tribute to Stan Musial in St. Louis were all great moments as current stars showed deference and humility to heroes of the past. The actual games lack that excitement, having already been surpassed in intensity by the World Baseball Classic.
If you really want to make the All-Star game matter again, here is my proposal: only allow, at most, two nationally televised games maybe one on ESPN and one on Fox, let local stations carry a couple games per week, get rid of the wild card and go back to two divisions with only four teams making the playoffs, get rid of mlb.tv, and don’t allow MLB Network to air games or move back and forth between different live broadcasts. Making those changes can make the All-Star Game matter again. Sounds terrible, right? As fans, we have all made trades so that we can be engulfed in baseball throughout the year. The All-Star Game’s fade from prominence is one of those tradeoffs, and I’m fine with it. Enough people will continue to enjoy the All-Star Game to make it a relevant, fun exhibition. As for me, I can’t wait until Friday, when I can watch as many games as I want. They all count, and I can decide which games matter.