- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

A modest proposal

Sometimes in pro sports, a revolutionary concept runs its course and has to be swept into the dustbin of history.

Think the XFL, Astroturf and synthetic basketballs.

More and more, it seems sports’ version of Darwinism has produced another victim: the all-star game.

Getting all the best players on the field was once a novel idea, and all-star games have provided some great moments over the years: Magic winning MVP in ‘92 after announcing he had HIV, Cal homering on the first pitch during his farewell in ‘01.

But according to waning TV ratings and player interest, that novelty seems to have worn off.

Once upon a time, pro sports did quite well without all-star games. The first ones were charity events for hockey players who had been killed or severely injured. Then in 1933, Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward conjured up the “The Game of the Century” for the World’s Fair. It was intended to be a one-time event but caught on.

Each league’s version of the all-star game has major flaws. The Pro Bowl has long been a post-Super Bowl afterthought, which drove the NFL to make next year’s contest two weeks earlier. That’s like the guy who changed his oil when he saw he had a flat tire.

The NBA game, meanwhile, has long been a showcase of dunks and alley-oops. Recently, what happens in the nightlife off the court has made just as much news as anything else.

In the NHL, the two of the best parts of the game — hitting and fighting — are essentially banned. (And don’t forget about the failed “North America vs. the World” experiment.) No-shows are so rampant the league has begun issuing one-game suspensions.

But baseball truly reflects the withering appeal of the all-star game in the cable/Internet era. The former “Midsummer Classic,” which used to have World Series cachet, hasn’t drawn double-digit TV ratings since 2001. It officially jumped the shark a year later, when Bud Selig declared a tie and then decreed subsequent winners would determine home-field advantage for the World Series. Even last year’s game, featuring hallowed greats from the past at the sport’s most famous temple, barely drew more viewers than “America’s Got Talent.” And this year’s edition will help push the postseason into November.

So, in the spirit of Arch Ward, a one-year hiatus on all-star games is in order.

Who knows? It might just catch on.

He said what?

“It’s a tremendous honor. I stared at those numbers for 11 years.” — Greg Maddux, whose number the Atlanta Braves will retire next week, on the other five players who have been so honored by the franchise

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