I pick my All-Stars my way, by voting for the guys I like to watch
People today seem to put some effort into actually voting for the "right" players
Mark Teahen and Jason Varitek are two of my more surprising choices in the AL
Skip Schumaker and Jeff Francoeur, two of my NL picks, are not popular choices
The other day someone I know pointed out that not so long ago, an All-Star voter's work was easy. He would punch his or her ballot for the most famous player at each position and be done with it. Today, though, perhaps because fantasy baseball is so popular and makes fans so much more aware of which players are having good years, people seem to take the whole thing more seriously and put some effort into actually voting for the "right" players. And this is, indeed, a shame.
In its modern form, the All-Star Game is mainly a way for Major League Baseball to show off its fancy new ballparks. It also gives the sport a chance to show off the most irregular democratic procedures outside of Cook County, Ill., or Iran, involving as they do openly encouraged ballot stuffing; late announcements of expanded rosters; Byzantine selection processes involving fans, managers and the commissioner's offices; late rounds of fan voting; etc.
The game itself is lost in all this silliness, and rightly so. In an age of interleague play, cable highlight shows and games being broadcast onto telephones, there's no special appeal to being able to see a lot of good players on the field at one time. This is what makes the earnest voting of fans who scrupulously try to get their ballots right so inexplicable. At last count, Raul Ibanez had nearly three million votes, while Manny Ramirez had just less than half as many. That there are twice as many baseball fans who would rather reward Ibanez for a fine first half as would like to see commissioner Bud Selig stammering and turning purple while answering questions about Ramirez at a press conference is a sad commentary on our society's badly misplaced priorities.
Surely the best All-Star ballot is the one filled out by a 7-year-old who carefully votes for every Kansas City Royal, and surely the second-best is the one filled out by the drunk who carefully votes for the player at each position who has the worst hair. Personally my voting technique doesn't meet these standards, but I do vote simply for the player I'd most like to watch at each position for whatever reason. Because I like to watch good players, I usually end up with a fairly vanilla ballot, and that's true this year. But I can say in good conscience that I paid no attention whatsoever to how deserving the players were when voting, and thus did my part to fight against America's ever-decreasing standards.
With that explanation, here is my 2009 All-Star ballot, as actually filled out and submitted at Chicago's Sox Park:
First base: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay: This was one of the easier choices I made. Pena is a terrific player, if not quite as good as peers Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Morneau. Every time he comes to the plate, though, one is reminded that both the Yankees and Red Sox got rid of him in the same year, and this after Oakland had done the same. I'm not much for treacly stories of the triumph of the human spirit, but anyone who has ever come in for a rough patch at work can look at Pena as an inspiration. And his fine play offers anyone who has ever tired of hearing Billy Beane and Theo Epstein lauded as geniuses the chance to smirk smugly to themselves.
Second base: Mark Teahen, Kansas City: No, he's not quite as good as, say, Ian Kinsler or Dustin Pedroia, and no, he's not actually a second baseman, having played 23 innings at the position this year. No matter. The idea of playing third basemen such as Teahen, rather than failed shortstops, at second base is a sound one, and this is my small way of encouraging it.
Third base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay: At this point I think you can say that Longoria is a better player than Alex Rodriguez, full stop. However much of a beast he is at the plate and in the field, though, that's only one reason why I voted for him. The other is that in last year's playoffs in Boston I saw him wearing one of the coolest jackets I've ever seen any major leaguer wear, a worn-out slip of vintage brown leather that most millionaires wouldn't use to wash their car. There is much to be said for a famous, rich athlete who has the sense to wear such a jacket.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York: Never having bought into the Jeter mystique -- he's a truly great player, and that's enough -- I still find him one of the more entertaining players in the game. Any time he plays one has the chance to see him dive two feet back off the plate on a pitch that nicked the inside corner, trying to sell it as a ball, or pumping his fist in the field after some routine throw to first base.
Catcher: Jason Varitek, Boston: This is no slight to Joe Mauer, one of baseball's best players and one of the most fun to watch. But is there anyone who looks like a ballplayer quite as much as Varitek? If he broke out some story about catching the Dean brothers in his early days, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
Left field: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay: The best thing about Crawford is that while he's fast, he's more football fast than baseball fast -- he's no waterbug, but a big, thick guy who runs the bases hard. He may be a poor man's Tim Raines, but that makes him more worth paying to watch than nearly any other player in the sport.
Center field: Carlos Gomez, Minnesota: This is another position where there are clearly better players than my pick, but Gomez is just such a thrilling defender to watch that I had to give him the nod over Adam Jones and Grady Sizemore. He has the rare knack of being able to just float around the outfield, running so smoothly that he may as well be pedaling a bicycle and settling under balls as if he hadn't had to move for them.
Right field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle: I always wondered what Tony Gwynn would have been able to do later in his career if he hadn't put on so much weight, and Suzuki, who's hitting nearly .370 at 35 while playing his usual outstanding defense, seems to offer a pretty good idea. I'll be voting for him until he retires, and I doubt that will be any time soon. He has a pretty good chance of racking up 3,000 major league hits by the time he's 40, which isn't bad for someone who started at 27.
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