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Rocking the vote

All-Star selection process always an interesting exercise

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Posted: Tuesday July 06, 1999 01:22 PM

  Kenny Lofton Overzealous Indians fans may have helped Kenny Lofton get his starting spot in the AL outfield. Stephen Dunn/Allsport

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

ATLANTA -- The boxes are stuffed, the ballots are all in. And now come the complaints, bouncing around stadiums from Dodger to Yankee.

If it's July, it must be time for baseball's All-Star Game.

America's Midsummer Classic steps up to the plate in Boston next Tuesday, but not before a fair amount of predictable gnashing and wailing around the grand old game. It happens every year -- cries of players who have been snubbed, others who have been unfairly voted in. All-Star managers in a bind, upset players, the game trying to defend itself and its process of selecting players to participate in the All-Star Game.

Is it performance this year, or reputation over the course of a career? Should the fans really have a say in this thing?

Is this whole exercise as painful as it sometimes seems?

"We're happy with it," says Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin. "I think the participation level is going to be very high this year. We're very pleased."

The participation Levin is speaking of is from baseball fans, who punch out ballots by the millions in ballparks and click on cyber-ballots on the Internet to vote for the players of their choice. It's a huge selection process -- the biggest of its kind in sports -- but not without its flaws.

Back in 1957, before the Internet was a gleam in Al Gore's eye, the good fans of Cincinnati went on a veritable ballot-stuffing feast, electing Reds to every starting position but one. (That was first base, where a St. Louis Cardinal player by the name of Stan Musial somehow squeezed his way in past George Crowe.)

Commissioner Ford Frick took charge and yanked two of the Reds, Gus Bell and Wally Post, from the starting lineup. Bell was subsequently reinstated, while a New York Giants player replaced Post -- guy by the name of Willie Mays.

Major League managers, coaches and players did the picking from then on, until Bowie Kuhn returned the job of picking the starting lineups to the fans in 1970.

It's been that way ever since -- for better or worse.

This season, if there's any ballot-stuffing going on, it's probably been in Cleveland, where an aggressive campaign in Jacobs Field (Ushers With Attitudes!) has put four Indians into the starting lineup.

The fact that Cleveland has the best attendance in baseball doesn't hurt, either.

There also has been a minor flap over the voting at shortstop in the American League, where Boston's Nomar Garciaparra edged out Yankees star Derek Jeter on the strength of Internet votes. The Red Sox put a notice on their World Wide Web site in early June informing fans that Garciaparra was within striking distance of Jeter and showing them where to vote online. It helped, of course, but probably not as much as the fact that 18 of the team's 27 games in June were at home

Managers, of course, get to right wrongs by selecting everybody else on the team but the eight starting position players. Still, there's no pleasing some people.

When it became clear that Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez, who is hitting .316 with 23 home runs and 77 RBIs, would not be voted into the starting lineup as one of three American League outfielder this year, he said he wouldn't go if picked as a reserve. AL manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, who said he wanted to pick Gonzalez, now says he won't after hearing that Gonzalez really doesn't plan to go.

Gonzalez is hardly a pioneer when it comes to All-Star game boycotts. Garry Templeton, a three-time All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres, once uttered the immortal baseball phrase "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin'."

All of it provides a wonderful buildup to the game -- which, when you get right down to it, is not for Garciaparra or Jeter or Gus Bell or George Crowe or any former or future All-Stars.

"It's a fan's game," Levin says. "Obviously, if players or managers or coaches were picking, maybe it would be different. But we understand that it's a fan's game."

Related information
American League 1999 All-Star Voting
Torre says he won't pick Gonzalez for All-Star Game
Baseball Notebook: Tough All-Star choices
Garciaparra edges Jeter for All-Star start
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