Futures Game Was An Idea Whose Time Had Come

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Thanks to the internet, I can tell you that it was Voltaire who said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

You'll be relieved to know that I'm not here to talk religion, but I was put in mind of that quote when thinking about the origins of the Futures Game, which will be staged for the 13th time on July 10 in Phoenix to kick off this year's all-star festivities.

At this point we take the game for granted, and we have come to expect 50 of the game's best prospects to gather each year in an exhibition of their premium skills.

Those of us who have been around for awhile, however, remember a time when it just wasn't so. When the best you could do was classification-wide all-star games staged at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, which were a slightly improved version of the invididual minor league all-star games. And even then, we used to lament that the players selected for those games were chosen based on their performance for that season, rather than their overall potential.

That all changed with the debut of the Futures Game in Boston in 1999. Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development with Major League Baseball, takes credit for coming up with the idea for the game, and I'm certainly in no position to argue. There's no doubt that he was part of the group that negotiated the renewal of the Professional Baseball Agreement (the contract that governs the relationship between the majors and minors) in 1998, and that renewal contained a provision that cleared the way for the game.

The idea for a prospect all-star game was not a new, or novel one. The Double-A and Triple-A all-star games themselves served as a model, pulling players from across the country together for one game. Our only gripe was that those games didn't go far enough, relying too much on present performance and limited to pulling from the players at only one level.

But such a thing as the Futures Game did not exist, so it was necessary to invent it. And for that all baseball fans should be grateful.

Success On Every Level

For prospect watchers, the Futures Game is a dream come true, and so it boggles our minds when more people show up for the celebrity softball game that is staged on the same day as the Futures Game. And not only that, but the crowd seems more into that game than the Futures Game.

But Solomon says the game is a financial success because most tickets are sold as part of a block of all-star tickets for fans, even if most seats aren't filled all day.

"Everybody in baseball considers it a success," he said. "From a business standpoint, and also a player development standpoint, we need a pipeline of players all the time—a talent source that brings new ballplayers into the game. We don't necessarily look at (the Futures Game) as a specific area that would create or be a revenue generation source."

It's a harsh dose of reality when we find out that prospect watching isn't the most popular pastime in America. After all, the Double-A all-star game doesn't exist anymore, a victim of the outsized cost of staging an all-star game that involves 30 teams instead of 10 or 12.

But for the passionate baseball watchers, like those of you reading BA, there's no substitute for the kind of talent you see in the Futures Game.

Last year's game in particular served as a launching pad for an amazing array of talent. Angels outfielder Mike Trout was in the midst of his breakout season and playing in Anaheim, and players like Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton, Mike Minor, Dee Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Hank Conger and David Espinosa are already in the big leagues now, just a year after being in the Futures Game.

Solomon said interest in the game could be higher this year because of the proximity of the Arizona Fall League and the generally greater attention paid to prospects year by year.

"We now have a lot more exposure for our younger players," he said. "They show a lot of different games (on television) that they didn't show before, so fans have actually heard of a lot of these players."

And whether they have or not before July 10, they surely will soon after.