The problems with a popularity contest that countsBy
Every year since I started blogging about baseball in 2004, I’ve taken up the topic of the stupidity of the All Star Game. I have no problem with the game itself, and when I had the opportunity to attend the 15-inning affair at Yankee Stadium in 2008, I had a blast. But no matter how thrilling that Mid-Summer Classic was, I can’t get past the fact that the All Star Game counts for something.
To recap, the problem arose in 2002 when the AL and NL both ran out of pitchers after 11 innings with the score still tied at 7. Because there are no ties in baseball, Bud Selig came off looking the fool when he announced that the game would end without a victor. Heaven forbid a glorified exhibition game end with no winner. To combat this problem, Selig announced that the All Star Game, of all things, would determine home-field advantage in the World Series. A pre-season coin toss would be just as arbitrary.
With the decision to make the All Star game count quickly becoming an engrained part of this July affair, MLB hasn’t addressed the problems with the way the teams are selected. The fans — those who drive ratings and the game’s success — still choose who gets to start, but they aren’t very good at it. Instead of picking the best players at each position, the fans just vote for the most popular, and the leagues aren’t represented, at least at first, by the real All Stars.
This year’s voting is no exception and, in fact, serves to highlight the problem. Let’s take first base in the AL. When MLB unveiled the early voting results, the lead vote-getter at first base was Mark Teixeira. I don’t know many Yankee fans who think number 25 is off to an All Star start. On the season, Teixeira is hitting .209/.327/.378 with 7 home runs, 30 RBIs and 37 strike outs. At this pace, he’ll strike out a career-high 133 times. The AL WAR leaderboard shows seven first basemen better than Teixeira, and Justin Morneau, the AL’s top first baseman, has received nearly 140,000 fewer votes than Teixeira.
At short stop, the same absurdity repeats itself. Derek Jeter — .276/.320/.396 with declining defensive numbers — leads the entire American League in votes. The WAR leader at short in the junior circuit is Elvis Andrus, and he has received 400,000 fewer votes than DJ.
Around the horn, the voting makes more or less sense. Robinson Cano should be leading at second base, and few will question Joe Mauer or Evan Longoria as All Stars at their respective positions. Of the Ichiro-Nelson Cruz-Carl Crawford outfield trio, only Crawford truly deserves to be there, but Cruz and Ichiro ain’t chopped liver.
On a personal level, I’d love to see Jeter and Teixeira start the All Star Game (and I’d love it even more as a Yankee fan if they could put up numbers to deserve it). But as a supporter of a team that has a legitimate shot at playing in the World Series and one who understands the benefits of home field advantage, I’d rather see the best players at their positions earn that Mid-Summer Classic starting berth.
The All Star Game should count or it should be a popularity contest. As long as it remains parts of both, the voting system will be as flawed as Bud Selig’s misguided concept. This time, it counts, and yet, it shouldn’t.