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The Boston Globe

Sports

CHRISTOPHER L. GASPER

MLB is wasting its All-Star Game

The salute to Derek Jeter at the All-Star Game took a weird turn when Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright initially said he grooved a pitch for Jeter to drive.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

The salute to Derek Jeter at the All-Star Game took a weird turn when Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright initially said he grooved a pitch for Jeter to drive.

Those fraud-detection services would have a field day with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. In trying to give the game new purpose and a mien of meaningfulness by using it to award home-field advantage in the World Series, starting in 2003, MLB has robbed it of its identity completely.

The game is neither an entertaining exhibition nor a high-stakes competition. It is stuck in a state of limbo, listlessness, and static television ratings (this year’s game did a 7.0 nationally; the prior two years registered 6.9 and a record-low 6.8).

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Right now, the MLB All-Star Game is like a middle school dance. It’s awkward, uncomfortable to watch, and nobody knows how to act. Think of baseball commissioner Bud Selig as the chaperone for this annual exercise in ennui.

The intention was to make the Midsummer Classic more meaningful, but baseball has just made it amorphous and meaningless, stripping it of its spirit and its entertainment value. Attaching manufactured significance to an exhibition game doesn’t make it a compelling competition. It just makes it a dull exhibition.

The 85th MLB All-Star Game, also known as Derek Jeter Fest, was played on Tuesday night at Target Field in Minneapolis. The American League won, 5-3, securing home-field advantage for the AL representative in the World Series. But the big loser was St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and National League starter Adam Wainwright, who copped to spoon-feeding a hittable pitch to Jeter, the retiring Yankees icon, who belted it for a double as part of a three-run first for the AL.

“I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright said. He later recanted, saying he misspoke, after drawing criticism for paying homage to Jeter at the expense of home-field advantage for the NL.

The Cardinals ace was collateral damage from the “This time it counts” mantra MLB has given the game to try to spur interest and avoid a repeat of the embarrassing 2002 stalemate in Milwaukee. That game ended in an 11-inning tie, as the teams ran out of players with a helpless Selig sitting in the stands, watching the ignominy unfold in his own backyard.

Wainwright got pilloried on social media for putting a pitch on a silver platter for baseball’s golden boy because the All-Star Game is ostensibly supposed to be conducted like an actual regular-season game. Silly.

Wainwright stepped off the mound at the start of the game so the crowd could salute Jeter.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Wainwright stepped off the mound at the start of the game so the crowd could salute Jeter.

Baseball has a tradition of grooving pitches to great players as parting gifts. Denny McLain did it for Mickey Mantle in the Mick’s final season. Chan Ho Park got in the groove for Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001 in the Ironman’s All-Star swan song. Baseball history contains other rumored setups.

The problem wasn’t Wainwright’s conduct as part of Jeter’s deserved fete, although it was a bit gauche to reveal his gesture so frankly. No, the problem is the misrepresentation of the Midsummer Classic as something it’s not — a real game. Players and managers are never going to treat it as such.

Baseball should use interleague play to award home field or just go back to the old system of alternating home field between the leagues.

As a rule, All-Star Games are superfluous sporting affairs that don’t resemble real games. Most of them should never be played. The apogee of useless All-Star contests is the NFL’s Pro Bowl. It’s a shame that commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t follow through on his threat to cancel the game.

The NHL All-Star Game is basically a free skate, and the league doesn’t even hold it in years where NHL players compete in the Olympics. Say what you will about the NBA All-Star Game, which is completely devoid of defense and full of playground basketball, but it’s entertaining if you like fancy passes and alley-oop slams off the backboard.

The NBA game has no pretense about being anything other than a fun-filled, high-flying exhibition. You know exactly what the NBA All-Star Game is all about before you submit to watching it. Plus, the game actually does become competitive if it’s close in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.

The most truly competitive North American team sport All-Star Game probably belongs to Major League Soccer, which pits its best XI (futbol shares a love of Roman numerals with football) against a European club each year. This year’s game, which will be held next month in Portland, Ore., will feature the MLS All-Stars against German juggernaut Bayern Munich.

There was a time, before rampant player fraternization, ESPN, and interleague play, when baseball’s All-Star Game was organically very competitive.

League pride was innate, not coerced.

The first All-Star Game was held in 1933 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. It was the brainchild of a Chicago Tribune sports editor and coincided with Chicago hosting a World’s Fair. Billed as the “Game of the Century,” it was won, 4-2, by the American League, which got a two-run homer from Babe Ruth.

Who can forget Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse at home plate to win the 1970 All-Star Game for the NL in 12 innings? Carl Yastrzemski played all 12 innings for the AL in that contest.

But the game evolved over time into a friendly exhibition where the focus was less on winning and more on making sure everyone got a participation ribbon.

Still, there have been memorable moments that didn’t have to be fabricated via faux importance.

I’ll never forget watching Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs hit back-to-back home runs off Rick Reuschel in the first inning of the 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. The 1999 game at Fenway Park was full of goose bumps, from Ted Williams being honored to Pedro Martinez fanning the first four batters he faced.

Target Field was a fitting venue for this year’s All-Star Game because the contest has devolved into a dartboard for mockery and criticism.

Baseball’s All-Star Game counts, but it doesn’t add up to good entertainment.

Related coverage:

Martha Coakley rips WEEI host for Erin Andrews rant

On baseball: Decisions loom for Red Sox

On baseball: Even Red Sox fans can salute Derek Jeter

What it’s like to live and play in the Cape Cod League

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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