Much has been said and written about the voting for this year’s All Star Game, and in particular, how Kansas City fans have been, well …”enthusiastic” about showing their support. As of this weekend, Royals are leading in seven of nine positions… and even Omar Infante, the veteran second baseman who sports a .217 average, no homers or stolen bases and the lowest OPS of any regular player in the league, is within striking distance of being voted in. Catcher Salvador Perez (as Sports Illustrated put it this week, “a fine player” but not the best catcher around) leads all players in votes, garnering about 4.42 million ballots so far. He’s been e-checked on close to half of all votes sent in. The fiasco shows all that’s wrong with baseball’s All Star Game… and what’s right with it!
Obviously, it’s easy to see what is wrong, or seems wrong about it. Fans voting can electronically “stuff” the ballot box and let their loyalties override their senses. KC is a good, solid, first-place team and doubtless they deserve to have some reps there in Cincinnati for the Mid-Summer Classic. Just as obvious, they shouldn’t have seven of nine starting position players and many of the current vote leaders are nowhere close to the best choices. Mike Moustakas, for instance, is a decent third baseman finally living up to his potential; so far he’s hitting .322 with 5 HR, 18 RBI and a .465 slugging percentage. Coupled with his solid glovework, that adds up to +2.5 WAR (wins above replacement , according once again to SI). However, compare that to the Jays Josh Donaldson, a Gold Glover who’s been pacing Toronto’s league-best offense with a .310 average but 16 HR, 43 RBI and a sky-high .582 slugging pct. That equals 3.5 WAR.
One can’t begrudge the Royals’ “Moose” some votes, but how in the world does he have over a million and a half more than Josh? SI advice : “vote for Donaldson.”
Likewise, first baseman Eric Hosmer of KC is a decent player having an above average year. But his .306 avg, 7 HR, 35 ribbies and .868 OPS pale beside perennial superstar Miguel Cabrera’s .320, 12/38, .985 or even Texas’ rejuvenated Prince Fielder, he of a league leading .356 average plus 10 homers and 40 RBI. Yet, i think by now you can guess who’s in line to be voted into the big game. In the outfield, Alex Rios, injured most of the year, hitting .235 with one home run and a negative WAR (meaning an average outfielder, if replacing Rios, would actually mean more KC victories) has been voted on over two million times, and many times more than the Jays Jose Bautista or Orioles Adam Jones! Apparently madness isn’t just a British ska band.
The problems with this are obvious. Unless there’s a huge pushback by fans in places like Toronto, Detroit and Dallas in the next couple of weeks (or unless fans in places like New York and Boston hold their noses and cast ballots for the likes of Miggy and Donaldson), the American League starting lineup in the All Star is going to look a whole lot like the team that lost the World Series to San Fran last fall. The lineup is going to be far from the best one available from the talent pool.
As well, with the home advantage in the World Series riding on it, it’s not inconceivable the fans’ choices might come back and bite the AL team (be it Detroit, Texas, Toronto or even, ironically, KC) on the butt in October. Do you think anyone on an American League team playing Game 7 in the World Series in St. Louis or DC this fall will forget if Omar Infante struck out with the bases loaded in the All Star game?
However,it also shows what’s right about the process. For starters, the game is primarily a showcase of talent for fans, and fans should thus have some say in who they want to see out there. Little question Miguel Cabrera is a better player than Eric Hosmer and Jose Bautista with his .400 on base pct. outranks Alex Gordon in almost every possible measurable statistic, but if more fans want to see Hosmer and Gordon, should they be denied? It’s the fans who fill the stands, and have their eyes glued to their TVs in numbers that get advertisers standing in line salivating to buy time.
Secondly, baseball has come to realize the potential for this problem and has made the game less and less dependent upon fan ballots. With the players themselves voting in backups and the manager filling in some of the bench players and pitchers, not to mention the contentious rule that every team must be represented by at least one player, there will be solid talent there and a diverse range of caps no matter how determined the western Missouri voters might be. Their choice of Sal Perez or Moose Moustakas won’t prevent Stephen Vogt or Josh Donaldson appearing in the game. Baseball gets the balance between getting fan faves and getting the best available players as closer to perfect than any other sport.
And, as much as I might be a bit loathe to admit it, it’s great to see the surge of votes for KC. For years it seemed the big-market, big-money teams (read: Yankees, Red Sox) dominated the voting. With voting now online and the power of social media, it’s obvious the playing field is leveled. I can’t help but be pleased to see the outpouring of support for their team from the people of Kansas City. The KC metro area has a population barely over two million- one tenth that of New York City! Among major league cities, only Cleveland and Milwaukee are smaller urban areas. One has to admire the passion for their team and be thrilled with what one great season can do to turn around the fortunes of a small market team that had struggled at the gate for some years. We Toronto fans can bitch about it – or get to our computers and smart phones and vote for Donaldson, Bautista, Martin and Encarnacion.
If there’s anyone to feel bad for in this whole process, it’s probably Ned Yost and his pitchers. As manager of last year’s AL champions, completing the All Star roster falls on his shoulders and given his requirements (a player from each of the 15 teams) and the resentment some fans are feeling at the stacking of the lineup with Royals, one has to think he won’t be naming any of his talented pitchers to be there. Pity him the day he walks into the clubhouse after naming his fill-ins. So c’mon down, Koji Uehara and Luke Gregorson and enjoy watching the game from the comfort of your living room, Greg Holland and Mr. Sub-One ERA, Wade Davis!