Another All-Star Flap

It seems like every year something incredibly silly happens with the All-Star Game. 

Last year, Major League Baseball decided to endow the game with "meaning" by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the mid-season exhibition.  The year before, the game ended in a tie after both teams "ran out" of pitchers. 

This year, the fans are being slammed in the media because Nomar Garciaparra is the leading vote-getter among AL shortstops.  It's not that Nomar is a bad player; it's just that he hasn't played a single game so far this season.  This is made even more amusing because Derek Jeter is the second leading vote-getter at short so far and he has probably created more outs than any player in baseball in the first two months of the season, yet the fans who are voting for him are given a pass.

First of all, fans voting undeserving players into the All-Star game is nothing new.  As great a player as Cal Ripken was, he was voted in as a starter by the fans on three different occasions when not only was he not the most productive candidate for a spot on the All-Star roster, but was arguably the worst available choice in terms of actual game value.  In 1998, he was hitting .258 with a slugging percentage of .362 and an on base of .322 at the Break, yet only Ken Griffey Jr. in the midst of a 56-homer season got more AL votes.  In 2000, Ripken was hitting .239 (.289 on base/.444 slugging) when he was named to the All-Star team by the fans.  And in 2001, he bottomed out at .240/.270/.324 but was still on the field at the All-Star Game when the first pitches were thrown.

This might not have been so bad had he been a shortstop playing in the deadball era, but at this point in his career he was a third baseman playing in an era of unprecedented offense and in a league with Troy Glaus, Corey Koskie, Travis Fryman and some kid named Chavez from Oakland who still hasn't been named to an All-Star team.  Yes, the winner of the last three Gold Gloves at third base in the AL and arguably the best third baseman in baseball since 2000, Eric Chavez still has no All-Star appearances.  Troy Glaus was the fans' choice last year, but Shea Hillenbrand was the fans' other recent non-Ripken choice.

Ripken isn't an isolated case, either: Pete Rose in 1982 (.287, but .719 OPS for a first baseman), Reggie Jackson in 1984 (.247 average/.769 OPS for a DH) and Ozzie Smith in 1994 (.240/.632 OPS at short) immediately come to mind.  All great players but all well-past their prime while denying a more productive candidate from a roster spot.  True, voting a player in who hasn't played a single game is a new twist on an old story, but it's not as though we couldn't see something like this coming.

However, this should be taken with one very giant grain of salt.  Because secondly, there are no written criteria for the fans to vote for the All-Star players.  They are simply handed a sheet and told to vote for their favorite players.  Not the most productive or the best overall, career-wise.  Their favorites.  In fact, most teams actively campaign for the fans to vote for their home team players, regardless if they are worthy stars or not.  There are even occasions where the players that are listed on the ballots aren't even the ones who are playing in the field regularly.  That doesn't matter to the clubs; just vote and vote often for the home town guys. 

The managers often get grief for their choices, but they are limited by the fact that they have to have at least one representative from every team and that just about every player in baseball has some sort of incentive or bonus clause for being named to an All-Star team.  So it behooves a manager to favor players from his own team, as well as potential free agents or trade targets.  A little bonus at the Break can go a long way in the clubhouse.  However, managers and players aren't immune to making squirrelly choices from time to time as well, like voting Raphael Palmeiro a Gold Glove at first base when he had only played 28 games there.  Or like naming Ed Sprague or Scott Cooper to an All-Star team.

And it's not like the media has a great track record when it comes to giving honors to the right people.  Their votes for the MVP awards and their lack of support for several very worthy candidates for the Hall of Fame weigh heavily against their claim of prudence.

What is baseball to do?

Actually, probably nothing.  That seems to be what they are best at.

But if they ever did decide to make the All-Star game an exhibition of the best players in the game, this would be my suggestion: split the vote.

Eliminate the requirement to have a player from every team, and give fans, players, media and the combined group of managers, coaches and front office personnel an equal share of voting for the entire roster, not just portions of it.  Make a roster of 17 position players (two for each position on the diamond plus a DH) and 13 pitchers and have every spot voted on by everyone.  Each segment of the population would get their collective vote weighted to 25% and whichever players scored the highest would make the team. 

Or, if they really wanted to keep with the spirit of many of baseball's recent changes, they could just let Pete Rose randomly pull names out of a hat.