Give me the All-Star Game without the 'meaning'

I'll watch next week's All-Star Game because I love baseball and I'm a sucker for star-power, pageantry, tradition and all that other stuff.

I want to see how Orioles starters J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Adam Jones do. And I want to see the game's newest Wonder Boy, Manny Machado, get in and make another miracle play at third that has the sell-out crowd at Citi Field and a national TV audience shooting to its feet and shouting: "NO! DID YOU SEE THAT?!"

Because "Crush" Davis is in it, I'll even watch the Home Run Derby, which has somehow managed to become boring over the years. And I'll chuckle at any nitwit O's fans who worry that it'll mess up Davis' swing.

(Mess up his swing? Are you serious? As Davis pointed out, he plays Home Run Derby every day in batting practice. That's what big-leaguers do: see who can launch the most balls into the seats and smack the longest tape-measure shot.)

But having said all that, the All-Star Game remains a joke in my eyes. And it'll continue to be a joke as long as the knuckleheads who run the game insist on having it determine home-field advantage in the World Series.

I've griped about this for years, ever since Commissioner Bud Selig lost his mind and put in this crazy rule back in 2003.

The thought — if you can call it that — was to make the game more relevant and not have the players treat it like a Sunday beer-league contest.

Except . . . that didn't really work.

The players still treat the game as a meaningless exhibition, no matter what they say publicly.

They're smart enough to know that when lineups are chosen by ballot-stuffing fans and managers try to play every player on bloated rosters no matter the situation, you're not exactly playing to win at all costs.

It's a glorified popularity contest, no matter how you look at it. And a popularity contest shouldn't decide home-field advantage in baseball's showcase event, the World Series.

Yasiel Puig makes the National League All-Star team? After the Los Angeles Dodgers phenom played in just 30-some games this season?

OK, fine. I have no problem with that. He's a terrific young player who's lighting up baseball with his talent and his back-story. The fans want to see him. A deluge of on-line votes helped him nail down the final roster spot after FOX-TV brass spent weeks with their rosary beads praying it would happen for the ratings.

But then let's not pretend these are two teams strategically chosen to play an important game that fairly influences the World Series.

Once upon a time, players in the All-Star Game genuinely cared about whether their team won or lost.

They played to win, because winning gave them bragging rights to say they played in the better, stronger league. And that meant something back then, back before free agency and inter-league play and cable TV broadcasting games from all over the country, when fans of one league rarely saw players from the other league except in the All-Star Game and the World Series.

But winning doesn't mean as much anymore. And it hasn't for a long time.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'll be standing by next Tuesday night, clutching the remote in my fat little hands and anxiously waiting for the game to start.

It'll be sweet to see so many Orioles in this All-Star Game. It makes it even sweeter that the Orioles are winning again and that Hardy, Jones, Davis and Machado have fairly high national profiles, too.

If you follow baseball at all in this town, you know there were too many seasons in the recent past when the O's managed to send only a lone mandatory representative to the game, your Tony Batistas and George Sherrills and Ty Wiggintons, who weren't even a household name in their own household.

But Commissioner Selig, it's time to come to your senses.

Drop this ridiculous rule that the game determines home-field advantage in the Series. Admit once and for all that it's patently unfair, that no matter how you dress it up, this is still an exhibition game where players spend more time kibitzing about their agents and sponsors and restaurant reservations than they do worrying about winning.

Then do the smart thing, Commissioner.

Either rotate the Series home-field advantage between both leagues the way it used to be, or else give it to the team with the best record in the regular-season.

Anything's better than the charade we're seeing right now.

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