Unfortunately, baseball's All-Star festivities are lacking in a true skills competition, unlike all the other sports with their festivities. Sure, chicks may dig the long ball, but the chicks (nor anyone else) aren't tuning in for it. So maybe it's time to see just who has all the tools, and the brain to use them, in the major leagues. So here is my suggestion to Bud Selig and the rest of baseball, and everyone, to bring some excitement back to the Mid-Summer Classic.
Before we get into the competition, some may ask why pitching is not included in this. Simply put, the act of pitching is in itself an injury risk. Since the pitchers who would actually pitch in the game would be unavailable to lay it all out there during the break, the competition would be pretty pointless. This isn't to underscore the importance of pitching, just to allow for it's injury and fatigue prone nature. I would love to see a pitching competition, but it should be done in the offseason.
First, select the candidates for the competition. My suggestion is 16 players, 8 from each league. Hopefully there'd be enough players game enough for this competition to make it interesting. These skills shouldn't be a risk to injury, nor enough to really fatigue any of these big league athletes, so the best competitors should be willing.
We'll start with one of the hitting categories: Batting for average. Each batter gets 20 pitches to hit safely. Fielder targets would be set up at the standard positions. Infielder targets should be half circles stoop up, eight feet in radius, at each of the infield positions. Perhaps a slightly smaller one for the pitcher's position, if insisted on. In the outfield, large targets showing the range of an average outfielder. Points are scored simply by how many safe hits a player gets in those 20 pitches. Bonus points could be made for hits in ‘Sweet Spots,' such as within three feet of the foul lines, or in the gaps deep.
Let's move onto the arm competition. This skill would be very similar to some of the QB Skills competition in the NFL. This competition would be set up into three parts: 2nd Base, 3rd Base and Center Field. For the infield spots, each player (both infielder and outfielder) gets five groundballs hit at them. Each player has three seconds to field the ball and throw to a target at first base, six feet in diameter. Points are then scored for accuracy on the target (5 for a bull's-eye, 3 for the middle circle, 1 for the outside circle, for example). From center field, they have to hit a target at home plate, similar to the half circle targets used in the Average competition. Points are scored for accuracy and deducted for the number of bounces to the target.
Next up is the speed competition. This is a real simple one. Run time sprints down the basepaths, 90 feet. To add to the excitement, have two players race each other. Scoring is done rotisserie style, 16 points for first place, 15 points for second, etc. etc. This is one competition where the competition could be structured into rounds, so that the top times run a second round to see who's best.
Now we come to the glove competition. This is one of the most difficult competitions to create, but it can be done. Infielders and outfielders should compete separately. For infielders, two identical machines will be set up to deliver a ground ball to either side of an infielder, without the infielder knowing which side the ball will go to. Each successive ball is farther from the fielder, and more points are given for the balls delivered further away. For outfielders, it should be a similar set up, except with fly balls and with the range much greater. In both cases, the fielder must identify where the ball is going and get there.
Then, finally, we come to Batting for Power. Simply put, this should be the Home Run Derby, except in the interest of brevity, there should only be one round, or perhaps two. This is better for the hitters and the competition anyways. How many times has the pure power slugger pounded a near record number of home runs in the first or second round, only to fade in later rounds? McGwire in '99? Giambi this year? Less rounds mean the true power hitter will win this competition.
So, there you go, Bud. When you make the right decision and give Pacific Bell Park the All-Star game in 2005, why not add in this skills competition. Give the players some more bragging rights, give the host city something else to celebrate and promote, and give the fans a new way to appreciate all the talent it takes to play this game, not just the home run. Chicks may dig the long ball, but true fans dig the entire game.
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