|Fan Balloting and the All-Star Game: is there a better way?|
Written by Laura K. Nist (Contact & Archive) on June 16, 2003
All-Star voting, as it stands, is not a measure of how good a player is – it is a measure of how well liked a player is or how strong the team’s marketing campaign is. (Let’s not forget the Ichiro incident of 2001) As a matter of fact, fans at ballparks throughout the country are encouraged by ushers, announcers, television and website promotions, and even MLB itself, to vote for their favorite players.
Sadly, our favorite players are not always the best players. Up until this week Jason Giambi was leading the pack in votes for AL first basemen. Jason, up to this point, has not even had a good year. Mike Piazza is second in fan voting for NL catchers and he is most definitely not having a good year.
How does this happen? Well, the way the voting is set up now, we are able to submit a maximum of twenty-five ballots per person. Of course what is to stop some of these overzealous groupies from opening email accounts under a variety of names and voting 1600 times or grabbing a handful of ballots at a game – or worse yet at a retail location near you. Yes, that’s right you can enter to win a trip for two to the All-Star game in Chicago by filling out an All-Star ballot at your local Subway sandwich shop. What? There isn’t a Subway in your town? Well, you may want to try Wal-Mart or Albertsons or any one of a half-dozen other retail locations that are allowing fans to vote. What is to prevent people that don’t even watch baseball or know who the players are to cast a ballot (or ten) so that they can have a chance to win a vacation?
Even more unfortunate is that voting is not limited to fans that live in the areas (or even the countries) that will be represented. Fans around the world can participate in All-Star balloting simply by logging on to MLB.com. People that may only watch the nationally televised games or teams (read Yankees) or none at all are able to cast a vote.
With the winner of the All-Star game also winning World Series home field advantage for their league, it is now more important than ever that the voting is based on performance, not name recognition or fan sentiment. I wonder how many of the fans that voted for Mike Piazza even realize that he is currently on the disabled list? Likewise, Bernie Williams, Sandy Alomar and a number of other fan favorites. Which reminds me, who exactly is it that is voting for Roberto Alomar? None of the Mets fans that I know would vote for him. And what about Ken Griffey, Jr.? What has he done lately?
In the past there have also been issues with the rule of allowing the managers of the All-Star teams to select the reserve players. In 2002 Bob Brenly picked six of his players to come with him while Joe Torre selected three of his players, in addition to the three that were voted onto the team by fans. MLB has made a few changes this year so hopefully that situation will not repeat itself. But what about baseball’s policy of allowing every team at least one representative in the All-Star game? I am hard pressed to name an All-Star caliber player on several teams.
So, how can we get an all-star team comprised of true all-stars? Let the players vote with the caveat of course that no one can vote for anyone on their own team. Then the coaches and managers can make the decisions on who starts and how many innings they play. One would assume that they at least would be more qualified to make that decision. Some of them can’t run a team but they must know who the best performing players are. Or if the fans are going to be allowed to vote then they should be required to pass a baseball proficiency exam before receiving a ballot. Basic questions such as: Name three teams other than the Yankees, Braves and Dodgers. Without looking, what position does Barry Bonds play? Or Rafael Palmiero uses what legal performance enhancer? Another way to weed out non-qualified voters would be to add a few ringers to the ballot – maybe Mark McGwire, Reggie Jackson and Joe Dimaggio. Then any ballot cast for those players would be automatically disqualified.
As it is now, the fan voting reduces the All-Star game to a popularity contest rather than the best players getting their due reward for on-the-field leadership and excellence. Maybe an easier solution would be to forget the home field advantage part of the equation and return the game to being simply an exhibition of the most popular players – the players that the fans want to see. For the fans that want to see a more competitive, meaningful game – well, maybe they ought to schedule their vacations to far off places during the All-Star break. The real competition begins in October anyway.