All-Stars enjoyed being mic'd up, but not when the games count

CLEVELAND — The biggest success of the 2019 All-Star Game, which the American League won 4-3, wasn’t the game itself. The game, save for several baffling scoreboard errors, was fine. But putting microphones on players in the field and in the batter’s box was an unqualified success.

Getting the players mic’d up was a fun part of the 2018 edition that was expanded even further in 2019, and it added a funny and wild aspect to the game. Now we know how Freddie Freeman sounds when he’s in the batter’s box, and what Francisco Lindor says when he’s shooting the breeze at second base. Alex Bregman, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Charlie Blackmon were just a handful of players that fans got to hear from.

And the fans went wild for it. How could they not? Where else do you get to hear players talk like this?

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Sometimes these fun innovations for fans aren’t fun for the players. But several All-Stars enjoyed letting fans get in on some literal inside baseball. Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers said that the microphones “give the fans a little insight on the personality, what we like to talk about, how we are on the baseball field.” It was his very first time being mic’d, and he said it was “fun,” “cool,” and minimally distracting. He even said he’d consider doing it every day, but just for an inning and not the entire game.

Charlie Blackmon, who put the National League on the board with his sixth inning home run, was a little more wary of wearing a microphone.

“It makes you a little nervous,” Blackmon said after the game. “Baseball’s so mental that you kind of use a certain thought process when you play. To use a completely different part of your brain and try to carry on a conversation, it totally changes the game.”

As baseball continues to look for ways to broaden and de-age its older fanbase, the immediate popularity of mic’d up players is a huge win for MLB. Suddenly, players have personalities and emotions. They weren’t just robots standing in the field, waiting for a ball to come their way. With such a win comes the immediate thought: could MLB do more of this?

The advantages are clear. With 25 guys on each of 30 teams (with guys rotating in and out due to injury and quality of play), it’s hard to get to know anyone but the major stars on any given team. Adding microphones to the mix allows fans to get to know more players, and deepens their connection to the team. But at what cost to the players, and to the game itself?

“I think it’s fun, [the All-Star Game] is a time to enjoy the game, it’s a great experience for the fans, I think there should be lots of access.” Blackmon said. “But when it counts for the Rockies, I feel like I need to focus as best I can.”

Freddie Freeman was the first batter of the 2019 All-Star Game, and he wore a microphone while he was in the batter's box facing Justin Verlander. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Freddie Freeman was the first batter of the 2019 All-Star Game, and he wore a microphone while he was in the batter's box facing Justin Verlander. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Bregman of the Houston Astros, who was in a three-way microphone situation with his teammates Michael Brantley and George Springer, agreed with Blackmon — microphones are for special occasions only.

“It was a lot of fun for the All-Star Game,” Bregman said. “I couldn’t do it during the season. It’s tough to lock in, it’s tough to do.”

Using microphones during games is a non-starter for most players if the games actually mean something — and every single game of the MLB season, save for the All-Star Game, means something. The integrity of the game is important, and that’s something MLB is trying to preserve at all times. But even knowing that, some players aren’t sure what will come next on the mic’d up front.

“I wouldn’t say I could do it all the time.” Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell said. “I feel like it would take away from the integrity of the everyday aspect of the sport … when I’m out in the field, I wouldn’t want to have a microphone on me all the time. We’ll see where the game goes, hopefully it’s not in that direction.”

No one knows where MLB will go next with this. Is winning fans worth alienating and even angering players? We may get to find out.

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