Double feature could mean big box office for All-Stars

The Baltimore Sun

When super agent Scott Boras proposed last week that Major League Baseball expand the World Series to nine games and hold the first two games at a neutral site, I was understandably skeptical.

Conspiracy Guy, my paranoid alter ego, immediately wondered whether baseball's evil genius was plotting to get client Alex Rodriguez more opportunities to enhance his spotty postseason stats, but Conspiracy Guy obviously hasn't looked at the American League East standings lately.

Boras explained in a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig that adding two games at a neutral site would open up tremendous marketing opportunities and allow baseball to create a mini-version of Super Bowl Week.

It's an interesting idea, and I would be an enthusiastic supporter of it if Boras had focused on the All-Star Game instead of the World Series. In fact, a very smart baseball columnist with a very stupid name proposed something very similar right here in The Sun nearly a decade ago - July 5, 1998, to be exact.

Continuing controversy over the flawed selection process for the All-Star Game prompted a suggestion that I still believe would make the midseason break almost as special as the Fall Classic. Expand the break to five days and have two All-Star Games played under different formats.

That wouldn't be unprecedented. Baseball held two All-Star Games per year from 1959 through 1962, but nothing like this. I proposed at the time that the five-day extravaganza be modeled and marketed just like Super Bowl Week, with enough special twists to take the whole baseball All-Star experience to a new level.

The suggestion in 1998 was intended to solve the long-standing argument over who should pick the teams. The fan voting was popular but imperfect, and there were calls to give the players a voice in the process. I proposed at the time that one set of All-Star teams be chosen by the fans and the other set by the players. If Solomon were around, I'm pretty sure that's the way he would have handled it.

The current selection process incorporates input from players and fans, removing the need for a People's Choice and Players' Choice game, but that only opens the way for an even more marketable arrangement.

The first game could be a "U.S. vs. The World" matchup that undoubtedly would enhance Major League Baseball's global outreach. The second game would be played under the traditional format because it would still determine home-field advantage for the World Series.

Sounds like great fun, especially when you consider that there are three other days for the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby and at least one other event I haven't thought of yet.

There isn't a lot of downside. The break would be exactly long enough to give every starting pitcher in baseball (who isn't in one of the two All-Star Games) one start off in the middle of the season. The Super Bowl Week model would generate additional sponsorship and broadcast revenue. And the international flavor would only add to the economic bonanza.

Boras can point to the past for precedent for a nine-game World Series: The first Fall Classic in 1903 was a best-of-nine. But I can't believe that Major League Baseball would seriously consider such a dramatic change in its signature event.

Selig indicated in a reply to Boras that he was interested in the World Series proposal. Let's hope he was just being polite.

There is some logic in Boras' contention that the World Series is undercapitalized because potential corporate sponsors don't know far enough in advance where it will take place, but I'm not sure staging the first two games at a neutral site would generate the kind of excitement he imagines.

Expanding the Series would reduce the importance of those first two games and could blunt the positive economic impact on the two home cities, which could end up hosting a total of three games.

Fans would figure to be more open to a change in the All-Star format because Major League Baseball is forever fiddling with it anyway, and they certainly would be more likely to take an expensive baseball vacation in midsummer while the kids are out of school.

If baseball wants to be more like the NFL, that's fine with me, but let's leave the World Series alone.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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