Major League Baseball and News Corp.’s Fox network say interest in the All-Star Game remains high, even if record player withdrawals and low ratings signal otherwise.
Baseball’s 82nd All-Star Game will be played tonight at Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees among 16 All-Stars not participating, a record 84 players were selected this season for the American and National League teams. It surpasses the previous high of 82 set last year, when ratings on Fox were the lowest in the history of baseball’s midseason showcase.
“You’ve got hit cable shows that didn’t exist 10 years ago to draw people’s attention,” Eric Shanks, co-president and chief operating officer of Fox Sports Media Group, said in a telephone interview. “The fact that sports and an event like the All-Star Game can deliver a rating in the sevens and high single digits I think is amazing considering people are being pulled in a bunch of different directions.”
Fox’s 7.5 rating last year, when the National League ended a 13-year winless streak with a 3-1 victory in Anaheim, California, was down 15.7 percent from the 2009 game at New York’s Yankee Stadium.
The lowest previous rating was an 8.1 in 2005, according to Nielsen Co., which lists data back to 1967, when the game drew a 25.6 rating. Last year’s game still drew more viewers than any other program on any network that night, said Shanks, adding that this year’s commercial slots sold out two weeks ago.
Player absences aren’t an indication that the All-Star Game may be losing its pulling power, either, said Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players Association.
“Players for the most part want to participate in the All-Star Game,” Weiner told ESPN.com yesterday. “They want to be here. Look at the number of guys who can’t play but still come, whether it’s the starting pitchers or a Jose Reyes. So I think it’s still a big deal.”
Reyes, the New York Mets’ shortstop, will be in the NL dugout tonight although he’s on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Six pitchers -- CC Sabathia of the Yankees, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Tampa Bay’s James Shields, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels and San Francisco’s Matt Cain -- won’t participate because of a rule that excludes them if they started their team’s final game before the All-Star break.
Rodriguez of the Yankees will miss the game after having knee surgery yesterday, while Rivera is sitting out this year because of soreness in his pitching arm. Jeter isn’t attending the All-Star Game, saying he wants to rest his injured calf. He played six straight games and got his 3,000th career hit after returning from the disabled list on July 4.
“It’s too bad that Jeter in particular is not here, because of what he accomplished over the weekend,” Phillies chairman Bill Giles said at a news conference in Phoenix. “It is a bit of a problem and baseball should study it.”
Roy Halladay of the Phillies will be the NL’s starting pitcher against Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels for the AL.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me,” said Weaver, who made his first All-Star appearance last year. “To be able to share the mound with a guy like Roy Halladay and all of the other pitchers, it’s a very humbling experience.”
Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson will bat first for the American League, with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, the league leader with 31 home runs, batting fourth. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who won the Home Run Derby last night, is batting eighth.
Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks will lead off for the NL, followed by Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran.
At stake again is home-field advantage for the winning league in the World Series. After the NL won last year, the Giants got to host the first two World Series games -- winning both -- and went on to capture the best-of-seven championship in five games.
“Baseball’s All-Star Game has been a staple of America’s summers,” said Shanks, 39. “It’s the point at which the second half of the season kicks off, races become tighter and people feel like games become that much more important.”