When it comes to All-Star voting, baseball's fans do just fine
The announcement of the All-Star Game starters is often met with criticism
Fans do a good job recognizing new stars like Toronto's Jose Bautista
Some deerving players are overlooked but fans will pick who they want to see
On Thursday, the fan voting for the 82nd All-Star Game, which will be played July 12 in Phoenix, will close. About 15 seconds after the starters are announced, the complaints will begin. "How is that guy anywhere near the team?" "He hasn't been good enough in years!" "Why isn't M.Y. Favoriteplayer a starter?" There will be an undercurrent to the conversation: The fans shouldn't have the vote, and the All-Star starters should be selected by the players, the managers, or perhaps by the WAR rankings as of June 30.
All of this is ridiculous. The fans' All-Star selections are generally quite good. Like Gold Glove Awards, they may lag a year behind reality, but that doesn't make the fans idiots. Just eyeballing the most recent results, the fans have been quick to catch on to the greatness of Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, see the star power of a Tigers catcher Alex Avila and warm to the comeback year of the Cardinals' Lance Berkman.
It can be jarring to see the dominance of some teams in the balloting -- the Yankees projected to have five starters a week ago, and two of those, Russell Martin and Derek Jeter, are clearly underqualified -- but that's an issue that has less to do with intelligence and more to do with attendance. Teams that draw well have always had an advantage in the voting, and teams that have strong get-out-the-vote operations have as well. Looking at the last update, it's easy to see which teams have the most support. The Yankees, of course. The Red Sox' ballot entries are in the top five at each position, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher and Marco Scutaro at shortstop. The Rangers seem to do well each season, and this is no exception -- a Ranger is in the top five at each position, with two top-six outfielders. The Yorvit Torrealba push is particularly amusing. Over in the NL, the Brewers, Phillies and Cardinals dominate the rankings.
Now, this isn't 1957 in Cincinnati, where ballot-stuffing at the park led to seven Reds starters -- and forced commissioner Ford Frick to step in and change the starting lineup. This is simply attendance and local efforts driving things. These processes used to be enough, but now, online voting has an impact as well -- it is, in fact, the only thing left over the last week. The effect is hard to suss out, as MLB doesn't release split totals, but it does seem to give players having a strong first half, particularly those with less visibility, an opportunity to shine. Avila, Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and Braves catcher Brian McCann -- who may finally get a starting job this year -- are examples of players who are benefitting from the democratization of the process.
This isn't perfect. Defense has rarely been a consideration for voters, so players who derive a significant portion of their value from their work in the field tend to be underrepresented. The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, for example, is probably doomed to low vote totals until his reputation catches up with his performance. This isn't a blind spot unique to the fans, however -- the players tend to vote exclusively on first-half Triple Crown stats, and the managers use those as well, while having their hands tied by a tangled web of rules for picking the last few players. The fans' results seem to track better with the original intent of the All-Star Game -- to showcase the best players in baseball, rather than the guys playing well in the season's first few months.
The key thing to keep in mind before attacking the fan voting is this: The game, despite the gimmick of tying the result of it to the World Series, doesn't count. It's a fun midseason exhibition, a junket for the players and most of the baseball industry. In recent years, All-Star Monday has come to overshadow the game itself, as the Home Run Derby Marathon dominates the festivities. By making the fans part of the process, MLB invests them in the game's outcome, and more importantly, its broadcast. That's the real reason beyond fan voting -- to get the fans aware of and interested in the All-Star Game so that they'll watch the ads on a Tuesday night in July. To that end, the fan voting does exactly what it's supposed to do, and if that means Derek Jeter stays one year too many, or Placido Polanco rides his Phillies teammates to a starting spot, well, it's a small price to pay.
I'll get off your lawn now.
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