Don't Save the All-Star Game

There are things that only sports fans care about. Hot wings and Adam Sandler movies come to mind, as do all-star games.

There are things that only sports fans care about. Hot wings and Adam Sandler movies come to mind, as do all-star games. This doesn’t mean you’re required to care about these things, of course. And just like I don’t enjoy looking at those Khmer Rouge-y drifts of tiny chicken bones or Sandler cargo-shorting his way through the trailer for Jack and Jill, there are plenty of fans who wonder why people on television act like you are required to give a shit about baseball’s All-Star Game. You’ve showed your commitment to fandom by sitting through, and becoming passionately involved in, a Mets/Padres game in May; chances are you need an All-Star break just as badly as the players.

For the next three days, Major League Baseball is in stasis, and nothing—not the standings, nor your fantasy stats—will change. Which is fine: It's nice to take a break from caring/thinking/obsessing about sports; it's also what the people playing in the All-Star Game are doing. The perverse thing is that caring less and treating the game like a game for once turns all-star games into appealingly dumb fun. Tune out the ulcerous hypercompetitiveness of Kobe Bryant, for example, and the NBA All-Star Game is a casual, implausibly dazzling pickup game between genius-level athletes nursing epic Cristal hangovers (and one snarling teetotaler spazz who is trying to score 50).

It's tougher to find this good-natured half-assery in baseball, probably because the game's unwritten conduct code effectively prohibits displays of actual enjoyment. But at the All-Star Game levity occasionally slips through the cracks: Barry Bonds’s only moment of not seeming like a walking hemorrhoid came during the 2002 event, when he playfully tackle-hoisted Torii Hunter onto his shoulder after Hunter robbed him of a homer. When all-star games work, it's because they feel loose and joyful—like games, for lack of a better word. Given the way sport-pundits parse July standings as if they were international arms reduction talks, there's something kind of subversive and bracing about seeing the world's best athletes very obviously playing for fun.

And yet the only ways commissioners and pundits and radio squeakers ever talk about improving all-star games is to make them More Meaningful. Everyone except for MLB commissioner Bud Selig agrees, at this point, that it is profoundly retarded to have the outcome of the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series, but that won't change anytime soon. Ditto for the ineffective clash-of-the-titans pomp surrounding the event. The simple reason the MLB's attempts to intensify the All-Star Game and its ancillary eventlets are doomed is that no one really minds their crappiness. The Futures Game (a coming-attraction exhibition between the game's best prospects) is cool, if you’re a nerd or someone with a fantasy baseball blog. The Home Run Derby is interminable and entirely too dependent on the booze-blustery punning of ESPN's bellowing-wineskin-in-residence Chris Berman. The Celebrity Softball thing is of course very awful, because there's always some high-stirruped tryhard from Grey's Anatomy playing in eye-black and trying to upend swimsuit models on double plays, and because the presence of Jimmy Kimmel (or, God forbid, tumid zombie Adam Carolla) naturally ruins things. And all of that is sort of fun in a ramshackle/cheesy kind of way, or at least it is as long as you aren’t fuming over how all of this should matter.

The All-Star Game’s loose, loopy, and frankly-who-gives-a-shit spirit is, in actuality, the one thing about it worth not just saving, but treasuring. A game played with hungover-Sunday seriousness by the best players in the world (and Derek Jeter), is a perfectly acceptable thing to watch—and a thing you can watch, for once, without caring who wins.