Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 5, 2015

It’s Great Fun, But It Shouldn’t Count

About the time this is posted Sunday evening the starters for this year’s MLB All-Star Game will be announced in a half-hour special on ESPN, prior to the start of the cable network’s broadcast of a game between the Giants and the Nationals. This is written in advance of that announcement, because irrespective of the outcome of fan voting for the 16 starting position players plus the American League designated hitter, there are certain enduring truths about both the selection process and the game itself.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB marketing department are already in self-congratulation mode over this year’s balloting. More than half a billion votes were cast, far surpassing the 391 million that were tallied last year. This season for the first time all of those ballots were cast online. Gone forever are the days when fans at ballparks could pick up ballots as they passed through the turnstiles during May and June, mark their choices and deposit them for counting before leaving the stadium. Internet voting is how most of the balloting has been done for years, so in its practical effect the change is largely meaningless. But along with the increasing substitution of print-at-home entry passes from a StubHub purchase in place of the printed cardboard ducats that served as keepsakes for millions of youngsters, the elimination of All-Star voting while sitting in the grandstand is one more small if inevitable diminution of the game experience.

Still an All-Star election with more than 500 million votes cast is surely evidence of a game that remains very much a part of our social fabric. Though before one pays too much attention to MLB’s celebration of the record number of ballots, it is worth remembering that fans are allowed to vote up to 35 times per email address, a process that the website makes extremely easy with a couple of mouse clicks. Half a billion votes is decidedly not the same as half a billion voters.

As is always the case, the results announced Sunday will remind us that the volume of votes in an election is no guarantee that the most qualified candidates win. In this age of advanced metrics, there are numerous websites offering detailed analyses of the leading players at each position in both leagues, and rendering statistic-laden judgments about those who most deserve to be named to the starting lineup. Fans for the most part will pay no mind.

Around the country many of the faithful of every franchise display their loyalty by voting repeatedly for members of the hometown nine. Perhaps a vote or two is given to an obvious great on some other team, or then again, perhaps not. From the first announcement of interim results several weeks ago, much has been made this year of the well-organized support for members of the Kansas City Royals. At one point players from the team that surprised everyone including fans at Kauffman Stadium by going all the way to the World Series last season, led the American League balloting for seven of the nine positions. Only two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera and reigning MVP Mike Trout were able to withstand the tidal wave of votes for Royals coming out of the nation’s heartland.

It now looks like “only” four or five Kansas City players will wind up on top of the voting for their respective positions; though if the players having the best year at even that many spots on the diamond are all really playing for a single team, one wonders why the Royals aren’t leading the AL Central by a dozen games or more.

But the best answer to those pundits and fans complaining about Kansas City followers filling up the ballot boxes is to tell them to get busy. In 2013 New York Mets fans complained bitterly after a late surge from the West Coast moved Pablo Sandoval, then with the Giants, past New York’s David Wright as the starting third baseman for the All-Star Game played at Citi Field. But ultimately the result was as much about not enough enthusiasm for the voting process from fans in Queens as it was about any conspiracy out by San Francisco Bay. So it is this year with those who are disgruntled because their own favorite trails a player who wears Kansas City blue.

As of the last release of interim results, the Royal in the closest race was second baseman Omar Infante. He may yet be caught by the Astros Jose Altuve, but if not Infante’s election will be this year’s proof that fan voting sometimes results in results that can only be called absurd. Infante is batting .233 with a bench player WAR of 0.3. But then based on the numbers the second baseman probably most deserving of an All-Star starting nod is Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis, and at last count he had barely half as many votes as Infante and Altuve.

The balloting results also suggest that fans of the Great Game are more willing to forgive than many pundits. The Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz and the Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta, both of whom served 50 game suspensions as part of the Biogenesis PEDs scandal, both appear headed for starting assignments. By the time the players elect a slate of reserves, the two managers round out the rosters, and fans weigh in one more time with a vote for the final member of each team, there will almost certainly be other players tarred with the PEDs brush on the field at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati a week from Tuesday.

While there is no obvious example in the current season, it’s also common for fans to treat All-Star voting as something akin to a lifetime achievement award. Certainly Derek Jeter’s numbers in his final campaign would not normally have earned him serious consideration. But who could begrudge the decision of fans all around the country to salute Jeter’s extraordinary career by voting him last year’s starting American League shortstop? After all, ultimately the game is an exhibition, a chance for all those who love the Great Game to take a brief midseason break and celebrate its stars.

Certainly that’s how fans seem to treat it by their voting, and how the players and managers approach it once play begins. Did Adam Wainwright groove a few pitches to Jeter in the first inning of last year’s contest? If so, why not give the future Hall of Famer the chance to go out in style? Would NL manager Mike Matheny have called for a left-handed reliever to face right-handed hitting Jose Abreu in a game that counted, as he did in the 8th inning last year? Of course not, but what was important for Matheny was giving as many players as possible the chance to make an appearance.

Except that thanks to former commissioner Bud Selig, the All-Star Game is not just a meaningless exhibition. After the 2002 game ended in an extra inning tie when both squads ran out of pitchers, an embarrassed Selig led the effort to have home field advantage in the World Series awarded to the representative of the league that wins each season’s All-Star Game, instead of having it alternate between the leagues as had always been the case. The fact that the decisive plays of the game might well not involve any member of the two teams that eventually meet in the Fall Classic, or that imposing this silly contrivance wouldn’t change the way fans and players approach the contest apparently never occurred to the commissioner. At least he and the marketing department got a slogan, “This time it counts!” Here’s a suggestion for new commissioner Manfred – how about letting the records of the two World Series participants count?

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Responses

  1. Yes, I completely agree. Having home-field advantage for the World Series decided by which league wins the All-Star game is absurd. Personally, I’d like to see on-line voters be restricted to one vote per person, but I don’t expect that to happen.
    Nice analysis,
    Bill

    • Thanks Bill. I agree with you about one vote per person, but you’re absolutely right that isn’t going to happen. Still it could always be worse. MLB could decide to leave the voting up to ten year members of the BBWAA. We know what a great job they do!

      Thanks again,

      Mike

      http://www.onsportsandlife.com

      Michael Cornelius

      603.498.5527


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