Two days ago, while killing time before dinner, my brother-in-law Anthony turned the channel to a replay of the NFL Pro Bowl. Sensing my need for a dose of American sports in the sea of cricket, rugby and soccer, he stopped on the game for about 10 minutes. He asked if it was an All-Star type game and I said it was, though I then added three minutes of qualifiers relating to injuries, dropouts, players being kicked out and teams who play in fear of an injury in a meaningless contest that could ruin the games that count in 2010. It's tough explaining the ludicrousness of the Pro Bowl in a hundred words or less. It's more difficult than explaining the electoral college to a foreigner.
Anthony watched one play - a run by Chris Johnson that ended with the defensive players standing as motionless as a sculpture at the Met - and said, "That was the slowest play I've ever seen." Anthony's probably seen 50 American football plays in his life, but even he could spot an inferior product.
I then explained that in addition to everything else I had mentioned, the game's often played at half-speed, as teams display the intensity they usually reserve for a flag football game with the relatives at Easter. We watched the AFC score the winning points in their thrilling 41-34 victory, a result that was erased from everyone's mind about three seconds after it entered the official record book.
The Pro Bowl's wretchedness is nothing new, even if the NFL somehow managed to make it even more irrelevant by playing it the week before the Super Bowl, ensuring that even more stars than normal will be missing. At least those players sport a legitimate excuse that doesn't require a handwritten note from a doctor that talks about a nagging hamstring injury or a lingering ankle problem that recently flared up. High school seniors with a week left of classes are the only people with worse attendance marks than stars picked for the Pro Bowl.
Despite all that, I still don't think the Pro Bowl is the worst of the Big Three's all-star games. That designation belongs to baseball. While the Pro Bowl suffers because of what happens on the field, MLB's All-Star game earns its spot at the bottom because of what's at stake on the field. Namely, way too much. Baseball's insistence on using the All-Star Game to determine homefield advantage for the World Series is much more absurd than watching the seventh-best quarterback in the NFC play in the Pro Bowl in front of a stadium that's filled with bored paying customers and prisoners shipped in to stock the remaining seats. All-Star games should be meaningless exhibitions where the top players show off, or at least show up.
Homefield advantage in baseball certainly isn't as crucial as it is in basketball and football, but it does mean quite a bit. And the previous method of deciding homefield - alternating it every year between AL and NL - didn't make much more sense. However, that system receives 86 percent of the credit for the Twins's World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, so no one from Minnesota will ever badmouth the way things were done before.
Baseball's All-Star game provides memorable moments, whether it's Pete Rose's psychotic collison with Ray Fosse or Reggie Jackson's blast at Tiger Stadium. In comparison, the only thing I remember about any Pro Bowl game was when Barry Switzer ate a hot dog on the sidelines in 1995, which somehow led to criticism from those who thought the good old boy wasn't taking the game seriously enough.
The NBA All-Star game remains my favorite. There's no defense, of course, but who cares? The Jeff Van Gundy's of the world can get their fill of weak-side rotations every other day of the season. The NBA's exhibition at least welcomes the top players. It lets them do things that make them great, namely dunk, throw no-look passes and shoot 25-foot three-pointers. The points come in bunches. And at the end of the 48-minute affair, everyone forgets the game and moves on, just like with the Pro Bowl.
But baseball's All-Star Game? Instead of being left in the past, baseball's premier exhibition haunts the rest of the season. Come October, everyone's again reminded that the reason the Series is beginning on a cold night in Yankee Stadium is because of what happened on a warm evening in July, in a game that should have been meaningless to everyone except wide-eyed children and degenerate gamblers.