The All-Star Shame
July 9, 2010

Plenty has been written already about some of the tremendously bad choices that were made in the selection process of the All-Star Game rosters.  And it's not really the fault of the "each team gets a representative" rule, either.  Michael Bourn is a nice player but there's no way a lead-off hitter with an on base under .340 should be playing in an All-Star Game.  Roy Oswalt is a legitmate candidate and the clear choice for a player from the Astros.  But that's just one of the minor infractions.  The diatribes about Omar Infante's inclusion on the roster are so plentiful already that I doubt I can add anything on that topic.  There are simply too many deserving players who will be left out of the honor event because of an incredibly flawed decision making process. 

Truly deserving players from teams that don't draw as much as the big market teams have no shot of being named to the All-Star team by the fans, leaving their fate to the always myopic managers.  Yes, Joey Votto got his ticket via an internet vote, but he is one of three guys who are in the top 5 of each of the triple crown categories.  He should have never been involved in such a run-off.  He deserved to be one of the first guys named to the team.  The other candidates in the run-off were more deserving than 3 or 4 of the other guys who were named by the managers.  Andy Pettitte?  Really?  Over major league strikeout leader Jered Weaver, or uber-lefty Francisco Liriano?  And just so no one thinks I'm picking on the AL, I'm still trying to figure out how Evan Meek got invited.  He's not even the best reliever on the Pirates, much less their most worthy candidate. 

But then that's baseball.  They always manage to screw up a decent idea with a bunch of really dumb ones.  The original purpose of the game was to showcase the best talent in the game.  Then it became a fan favorite's game.  Then when people stopped caring about it because teams were worried about injuries and not always sending their best players, the commish stepped in and tried to add season-balancing relevance to it.  So now the fans get to vote the starters in, the managers get to name the reserves and the pichitng staff and then when the manager screws up and neglects several obvious candidates, the fans get another shot to vote one more player in.  Is there a more porly conceived method to build a roster?  With no input from the guys who actually build rosters for a living or from the people who report and record the everyday events for decades?  And the winner of the game determines home field advantage in the World Series?  In science, the object is to isolate variables so that real analysis can begin.  In baseball, apparently, the object is to incorporate additional variables so that all analysis is meaningless and all results are as random as possible.  Don't get me started on the whole unbalanced schedule fiasco.  Let the fans vote in the starters, fine.  But leaving the rest of the roster to someone who has a vested interest in getting his own favorite players on the team is just backward.  And each year the managers prove just how backwatrd they can be.

Speaking of fiascoes, it's nice that the World Cup will crown a new champion this year - all of the 18 World Cups have been won by just seven nations.  Nine of those have been won by Brazil (5) and Italy (4).  But the competition itself has been marred by absolutely dreadful officiating.  It has been so bad that even FIFA, the organization that sponsors this competition and just about every other soccer endeavor worldwide, revealed a survey that stated that 4% of the calls have been terrible!  Their words.  When is the last time a sports enterprise has been so humiliated and shamed that it actually came out and stated that they were doing a terrible job?  Most would fall back on the old saw that the human element can not be eliminated or some such nonsense ike the rules leave a great deal for individual interpretation.  These calls have been so bad that even FIFA doesn't have any excuses, that human fallibility isn't even a credible excuse.  What most people probably don't know is that the refs that are brought to the World Cup aren't necessarily the best refs in the world.  Each ref is the best ref from his country, but most countries don't have very polished leagues.  So all the best refs from the Bundesliga or the English Premier League, etc, don't necessarily get to ref in the World Cup.  It's kind of like the Security Council of the UN.  There are the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, US and UK) that have rightfully earned their seat by the power they wield, but then there are temporary members who are brought on board every few years, but rather than by experience or by relevance, it's pretty much a random draw.  And sometimes the choices are ridiculous.  Remember when Libya, a state that sponsored terrorism, sat on the Security Council?  How's that for irony.  Well, the World Cup operates on a similar principle.  It doesn't matter your experience or qualifications, only that everyone gets a chance. 

But the reffing should get better even given the way the talent pool is constructed with the potential instituion of instant replay, particularly on goal-related events.  Good for them!  It's about time that all sports embraced replay and the technological advances that can make the games better by making the right calls when necessary.  Now I know what a lot of people are saying and it's probably one of two things a) replay slows the game down, and/or b) I like having the human element in the game.  After all, people make bad calls in real life, too. 

OK, both those reasons are incredibly lame.  First and foremost, the whole reason sports have officiating is so that the rules are followed and that when an infraction occurs, the game is made right by assessing a penalty.  In society it works that way too: commit a felony and people expect you to go to jail.  Commit a misdemeanor and you should expect to pay a fine.  That should be the expectation.  And if the technology exists to better fulfill that goal, then we should use it.  Anf if technology is applied competently it does not slow the game down in a meaningful way, but I'll get to that in a moment.

The other argument is that technology removes the human element from the sport.  This is the most ridiculous argument ever foisted on the human population, even moreso that equating the number of lumps on one's head to intelligence.  Do you drive a car?  Why would you do that?  You should walk everywhere because driving a car takes the human element out of personal transportation.  Use a calculator?  Why take out the human elememt out of doing; use your head instead.  That will make our lives much more interesting, don't you think?  Technology is invented to make our lives more efficient.  You use stats to evaluate your fantasy baseball players?  That's technology too.  And poring over reams of stats certainly slows down the evaluation process for players.  Why not keep the human element in tact and go solely by what you see in a ballgame?  The reason, of couse, is that sensible, reasonable, successful people explore every avenue for improving their decision-making ability in order to achieve better outcomes.  Doing otherwise is just dumb.  So why be a moron about instant replay?   Get it right as possible and them move on.

And to that effect, currently no sport employs instant replay the way it should be.  Instead of one guy in a tiny booth looking at a 9-inch monitor, or a ref peering into a camera viewer, there should be a seperate but equal instant replay referee in a booth with a 50-inch high definition TV so he sees exactly what you see at home.  When he sees something flagrantly wrong, he beeps down to his fellow umpires on the field and lets them know.  And you know why this won't slow down the game?  Because every major sport already accounts for the TV broadcasting and slows the pace down for the expressed purpose of showing you instant replays.  The instant replay time is already built into the game!  And because networks are vying for your advertising dollars they already put their best cameramen and techincal crews out there for every game, making sure you see every detail imaginable, so the instant replay ref will always have the best view possible.  There are cameras at every major stadium and ballpark in the world and the broadcasts are always as cutting edge as the network can afford.  With a little kick-in from the leagues, there would be no problem keeping broadcasts and thus the instant replay officiating state of the art in every major league venue in the world.   That is the future of refereeing in sport and the sooner we embrace it, the fewer bad choices we'll have to complain about.