Esposito: How About An All-Star Thanksgiving?

Here’s an idea that likely will never happen, but could, and could bring an interesting conclusion to the oddest baseball season ever to occur.

While the rich kids continue to fight it out in the sandbox over how many games to play in this truncated, pandemic-damaged season, and how much the players are willing to play for, one fact remains, and that is major league baseball is not willing to play into November.

For many good reasons, and in this particular year, it is wise not to drag out a very abbreviated season into no more than perhaps just a few days into November.  Most importantly is the fear that a second wave of the coronavirus is lurking, and medical experts suspect it could once again tidal wave in the fall.

Of financial concerns is the thought of going head-to-head with the almighty NFL, a great sport, indeed, but its ongoing popularity enable it to monopolize TV ratings and squash all in its path.

Traditionally, basketball and hockey also pre-occupy sports-minded fans in the fall, and to a different extent – soccer, NASCAR, horse-racing, and boxing, but a year in which fans are strictly homebound, many traditions have been postponed, and all new ideas are on the table.

Among the millions of events that were canceled due to the pandemic was this year’s All-Star Game.  It was scheduled for July 14 in Los Angeles at Dodgers Stadium.

What once was hatched by a sportswriter in 1933 has evolved into baseball’s mid-summer showcase, arguably sport’s best all-star extravaganza, a fan favorite spectacle, and also a ratings and money bonanza for the league and its participants.

So bye-bye All-Star Game, but what if, yes, what if, the event became resurrected during Thanksgiving Week?

Annually, the All-Star Game, and its accompanying Home Run Derby, are Monday-Tuesday events.  They also are preceded by events such as the Futures Game and Fan Fest the prior weekend.

So with the NFL locking down Sundays – and possibly Saturdays as well this fall if college football games are scrapped – and their dominance on Thanksgiving Thursday, baseball has a chance to grab a few headlines, make some money, and entertain some sports-starved fans on the Monday and Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving this year with a rescheduled All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.

Crazy idea?  Perhaps, and surely some of you are saying that’s nuts, but here’s some reasoning behind the thought.

The fact that by happenstance the All-Star Game was targeted this year for Los Angeles, a warm-weather city even in November, assures that a game could be played under normal baseball conditions.  Fan Fest, a Futures game, and Home Run Derby would also be most likely weather-protected.  Tickets already had been sold, and even if they have been refunded by now, the events would surely attract fans to buy again.

TV networks would likely still be starved for programming, as many scripted shows have had filming delays due to the pandemic.

Basketball and hockey might still be in their weirdly re-scheduled “off-season,” since their delayed 2019/20 seasons and playoffs will be played this summer, which may delay their next seasons until possibly into late December.

The only real sports conflict would be Monday Night Football opposite a Home Run Derby (ESPN would cash in on the exclusivity rites to both), so that could split families and households into whether you’re more of a baseball or football fan, or have a bet on the football game, but there are now even ways to enjoy both, including split screens, multiple electronic devices, and if fans are once again allowed back into bars and restaurants – wearing masks – there are numerous TVs showing multiple events on the walls to hold their attention.

That leaves Tuesday all to baseball, and FOX Sports would welcome the attention.

So now you’re thinking would the players be interested?  It would be nearly four weeks since any baseball had been played (Thanksgiving this year is Novemeber 26), and even then that was limited to the final two teams in the World Series (or if they somehow asterisk the whole thing and call it something else).

As you know, many players have All-Star clauses, it adds to their prestige and eventually their income, and some increase their chances at Hall of Fame Induction.

But for a good portion of the players, by Thanksgiving week, they hadn’t fully played a game, or gotten into game shape, since the last week of September, so would they be able to ramp it up again?

For this, we turn to history, both the distant past and the present.

For decades, we know that many Latin players return to their roots and play in Central and South America and the Caribbean not long after the MLB season ends, so their winters are filled with baseball and they stay in shape.  And they sometimes bring some of their non-Latin colleagues with them.

And long ago, in a baseball galaxy far away, (Babe Ruth’s era, youngsters), it was not uncommon for ballplayers to barnstorm their way across America in the offseason, often playing against local teams or the stars of the Negro Leagues in an effort to pick up a few bucks and also to keep playing baseball.  So they stayed in shape.

And you’d like to think that the names of the All-Star participants would be determined by late September, or perhaps early October, so they could stay prepared, maybe even play a few exhibitions or host clinics across the country or perhaps other countries to help grow the game.

Of course, all of this could be undermined by a new wave of the coronavirus, which could shut down everything all over again and we’re back to re-inventing ways to entertain ourselves while stuck at home.

However, this is where the best part of the idea could hit home.  This is wishful thinking, very wishful thinking, but baseball – and the Player’s Association should both agree to donate all (I know, fat chance), or at least a good portion of the proceeds to the thousands of essential medical care providers around the country, or, also to the millions of Americans (after all, this is the root of your fan base) who lost jobs and money to the pandemic.

Good pub, good will all around, and good for the American people.

Will all this happen?  Not likely.  But just a thought during a homebound pandemic.

Play ball…eventually.

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