All-Star Game needs some changes to restore its luster

Fan balloting for the All-Star Game lineups ends at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.

Perhaps it should end altogether.

The balloting has become a sponsor-driven event where Major League Baseball encourages teams to encourage their fans to spend endless hours on the computer voting for the hometown players. Some teams have even constructed areas in their ballparks where fans can spend time voting for their favorite players.

That is not the right way to select players for a game that determines home field advantage for the World Series.

It is the fans' game, but a player shouldn't be represented at the July 16 game at Citi Field simply because his fan base had more time at the computer. Instead of the fan vote, the starters should be determined by a vote of players, coaches and managers. It's an old-fashioned idea that works.

Here's more constructive criticism to improve the All-Star Game:

* Shorten the Home Run Derby. It would be a nice to eliminate it, but given corporate sponsorship, that will never happen. The competition conjures up memories of the steroid era when too many home runs ruined the sport's credibility. Fans don't need to see 86 home runs in the derby as they did last year. A shorter competition drags less and is more dramatic.

* Cut the 34-man roster for each league to 28 players, maybe even 25. There are too many players and because of that, managers feel as if they have to get every player into the game. That turns the game into a Little League exhibition. Not every player has to appear in the game.

* If baseball thinks that a player close to retirement needs to be recognized, but isn't All-Star worthy, he could be introduced as part of the non-playing roster before the game. Todd Helton or Ichiro Suzuki should be at this year's game in that capacity.

* Make starting pitchers go at least three innings. Then, the debate about the AL and NL starting pitchers would have teeth. Does it really matter whether the Mets' Matt Harvey or the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann pitches the first inning for the National League? Plus, a starter having to work through an All-Star lineup at least once would create intrigue.

* Find a way to keep the starters in the game longer. By the fourth inning, starters are usually dressed and getting ready to vacate the clubhouse. Granted, there are no duds at the All-Star Game, but wouldn't it be fun if Craig Kimbrel had to go through Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Mike Trout in the ninth inning?

* The game needs more strategy, not never-ending substitutions. The smaller rosters would put a premium on versatile players that are usually snubbed. Managers should be encouraged to use the strategy of the regular season. Imagine the debate if a manager had two closers ready to pitch the ninth inning, and he picked the wrong one.

* Keep a minor league pitcher or two on the roster in case there is a pitching shortage and the game goes into extra innings. The minor leaguers chosen may not pitch, but they would feel honored to be part of the squad.

* It's important for the players to wear their regular season uniforms. Fans in New York's Citi Field should be able to see what a Cardinals or Giants home uniform looks like. Baseball should never go to a standard All-Star uniform. It is bad enough that the players wear All-Star uniforms during batting practice.

* There are yearly debates about whether all teams should be represented. That rule shouldn't change.

Baseball needs to dare to be different. Marketing has taken over the game and that's made it difficult to watch. Baseball used to have the most meaningful All-Star Game, but lately, it has morphed into something like the NBA, NHL and NFL exhibitions that are used to sell sponsors' products. A competitive game among the best players in each league would set baseball a part from the other sports, and restore credibility to the Mid-Summer Classic. And if not everybody gets to play? No big deal. That's the way it is during the regular season.