Early All Star voting reveals a flawed selection process

The ubiquitous advertising on MLB.com is a reminder to one of Bud Selig’s darkest days as baseball commissioners. The ads calling fans to vote for their favorite players as 2005 All Stars all repeat the same mantra. “This one counts.?

Major League Baseball won’t have a repeat of 2003, the ads are telling the fans. No more games ending in 11-inning ties because, well, baseball games just don’t end in ties. No more managers running out of pitchers just to get someone into the game. Plus the whole “this one counts? idea worked fine in 2004. Let’s do it again this year.

But for all of this emphasis on turning the Mid-Summer Classic into a meaningful game, Major League Baseball has to improve the All Star Game process. It’s now a meaningful game with players selected in a meaningless fashion. Until those in charge can figure out how to reconcile the competing interests of the fans and the integrity of the All Star Game, having this one – or any of the All Star games – count just seems wrong.

The first warning sign arrived in my inbox last Wednesday, April 20, when I got an e-mail telling me to vote for my favorite players for the All Star Game. At first, I thought this was a mistake. By last Wednesday, most teams had played all of 15 games, and the All Star Game in July was nearly three months in the future.

Fifteen games into the season doesn’t give anyone enough time to start evaluating players for the All Star Game, but it certainly gives those die-hard fans ample opportunity to vote for players only from their favorite team. After 15 games of the season, all we knew was that Brian Roberts was going to hit 64 home runs, that the Dodgers were going to win over 125 games, and that Dontrelle Willis was going to pitch 33 complete-game shutouts this season. So much for projecting stats based on the first two weeks of baseball. But, hey! Vote for your favorite Yankee everyday for the next three months. There’s plenty of time.

This ridiculously early voting kick-off date was of no concern to Major League Baseball. Selig and Co. need people to watch the game, and what better way to get people planning for the July game than early online voting. Furthermore, this is a system that inherently favors people off to good starts. Roberts, the Orioles’ second baseman, is doing exceptionally well this April, and I’m sure more than a few people will vote for him in the early going. What happens when June 10 rolls around and Roberts hasn’t hit a home run since late April? He’ll still have those All Star votes and could wind up starting in Detroit on July 12. As an American League fan, I may not want him out there come the second week of July defending my team’s shot at homefield advantage.

The second problem with the All Star game is the voting itself. If the game counts and players are supposedly motivated to play for homefield advantage in the World Series, the fans shouldn’t be the ones voting for the All Star starters.

Looking at the ballot, Kevin Millar and Tino Martinez enjoy the highest level of name recognition among AL first basemen right now. Playing on the two biggest baseball stages in the country, Millar and Martinez have great fan bases in Boston and New York respectively. But in the early going, the real All Star is Paul Konerko. The White Sox just don’t enjoy the same level of exposure as the Red Sox or Yankees do. How can a biased system be relied upon to pick a team of players who will really be the All Stars?

The issue of injured players also rings a similar bell. As Mark Newman introduced the All Star voting last Wednesday on MLB.com, he questioned whether or not Barry Bonds would get the votes this year. He does after all have a great deal of prestige and recognition attached to his name. Never mind that by July 12 he may not have even made his 2005 season debut. Are you really an All Star if you haven’t set foot on the field? How can a system that extols the game as counting this time allow for an injured player to have even the slightest shot at garnering a starting spot on the All Star team?

All of these flaws point to the biggest problem facing Major League Baseball and the All Star game. It’s an issue of defining the game. Is the All Star spectacle about securing homefield advantage in the World Series or is the game about giving the fans what they want so they’ll watch the game? If it’s about homefield advantage and rewarding the true All Stars, it’s time for the coaches, managers, and players to pick the guys who stand out as the real All Stars. If it’s about the fans and giving them what they want (as an All Star game should be), then it’s time to drop the whole “this one counts? mentality that surrounds the All Star game.

Either way, April 20 – Game 15 for many teams – is simply too early to start calling for All Star votes. Who knows what great players won’t get the call because fans are locked into their selection after just two weeks? Plus, we shouldn’t risk rewarding the wrong guys as All Star. This one counts.

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