The All-Star Game, tonight in Anaheim, is a time when the sport’s brightest stars gather to put on a show for fans from coast to coast.

There was a time when the All-Star Game was one of the highlights of the baseball calendar.

Once upon a time, the two leagues didn’t play one another in the regular season. Their All-Star meeting was a chance for the top players in each league to test themselves against one another.

Now, of course, American League teams play National League teams. Thanks to 18 interleague games, there are few mysteries between leagues.

Rampant free agency has further increased the leagues’ knowledge of one another, as players jump from team to team with increasing regularity.

Nonetheless, baseball has done everything it can think of to make the All-Star Game relevant again. It has increased the roster sizes of the teams, adding pitchers and tweaking the rules governing who plays.

Tonight, each league sports a 34-player roster. They are the largest rosters in All-Star history, the intention being that there will be enough players to withstand a long game.

Because, of course, the game counts You’ve heard it in the commercials. The winner of tonight’s game gets home-field advantage for its representative in the World Series. So, baseball would have you believe, this isn’t just an exhibition. It’s a battle with serious repercussions.

Except baseball doesn’t really run the game like that, does it? It continues to add gimmicks to the selection process. Nick Swisher edged Kevin Youkilis last week in the “final vote,” the online fan balloting used to pick the 34th and final player on each roster. Swisher actively campaigned for the honor, urging the one million or so followers he has on Twitter to vote for him.

Youkilis refused to ask for votes, assuming his numbers would speak for themselves. Youk is clearly a better player than Swisher, so in a game that matters he would be the obvious choice, right?

All of this goes back to the inability of Major League Baseball to provide firm leadership. In 2002, Commissioner Bud Selig sat by while the AL and NL played through 11 innings. Finally, the game was called a 7-7 tie.

Ultimately, no one cared if the All-Star Game was declared a tie except no one knew that was a possibility. Had Selig announced there could be a tie, or provided some other resolution (a home-run derby after 11 innings, for example) we wouldn’t see this attempt at legitimizing a midseason exhibition game.

If baseball wants to make these games meaningful, they should appeal to the players’ wallets. Make a pool of money to be divided by the winners. In addition, let players go longer in the game, and explain to reserves that they may not get in.

Finally, take the vote out of fans’ hands, and let players vote for the entire roster.

Most importantly, stop requiring that all teams be represented.

To think that ratings in Pittsburgh will go up because Evan Meek is in the game, or that Fausto Carmona’s presence will drive them wild in Cleveland is crazy. If this game matters, put the best team on the field, period.

Of course, the easiest thing of all would be to stop acting like this game counts. Take away the World Series home-field advantage, let the All-Stars have fun, and get on with it.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.