America has always styled itself as a nation of equality — if you have the skills, you will be rewarded.
Of course, this has always been counterbalanced by people’s love of rewarding those they know, that great enemy of democracy and equality — nepotism.
Yes, from Tammany Hall to getting that internship at your parent’s work, nothing is more American than rewarding the undeserving — because, hey, you know a guy.
There is no better example of this than the 2015 MLB All-Star Game, which will be held in Cincinnati on July 14 this year.
Since 1970, fan voting has decided what players will start the All-Star Game. The league implemented the system to allow for more fan participation and interest, and for good reason. I’ve always loved the balloting. I am a diehard Yankees fan, but overall I appreciate the sport just as much as my team. To have a chance to honor the players with a very real accomplishment — being named an All-Star — is exciting.
But sometimes, the system goes awry.
Since their surprise World Series run last year, the Kansas City Royals have gone from a team of nobodies to a team of heroes. And after missing the playoffs for 28 straight years, the team’s fans have every reason to be excited. However, that doesn’t justify the disrespect to the game the way that home team voting displays.
As of June 15, Royals players are leading in American League All-Star voting in eight of the nine total positions. This includes those who arguably deserve it (Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain), those who are having fine seasons, but relative to competition, not typically All-Star-worthy seasons (Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon) and those who have been plain awful (Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante). The only non-Royal in a starting position is Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, whose complete mastery of the five tools of baseball has luckily defeated even the worst hometown instincts in Royals fan voters. Yet Alex Rios, the Royals’ third listed outfielder in the ballot — even though he has played a grand total of 18 games this year from injury — is sitting comfortably in fourth place at the position.
Infante’s case is the most maddening. While an All-Star at one point in his career, he is now at best a serviceable utility player. This hasn’t stopped the Royals hive mind from giving him unwavering support, with his zero home runs, zero stolen bases and -0.1 WAR. Meaning Wins Above Replacement, WAR is an attempt to put a numerical value on everything a player does for a team in terms of wins. The formulas vary, but the negative sign means that the player starting the All-Star Game for the American League at second base, where the likes of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar have started, will be a player who has hurt his team more than helped.
The All-Star Game should be a chance for baseball fans to see the best play the best. As a sport that relies a lot on chemistry, real life All-Star teams rarely work. Big names don’t always work together — just look at the San Diego Padres. The team added former All-Stars Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel and Derek Norris to the roster this winter, hoping the injection of talent could push the team to the playoffs. Almost halfway through the year, the Padres are sitting at 32-33, third in their division, having just run their manager out of town.
But the Midsummer Classic is a one-off event where all that matters is the thrill of seeing an all-time great like Derek Jeter, in his last year, hitting with Trout, baseball’s brightest youngster, behind him. It’s about Pedro Martinez striking out three of the the biggest power hitters in baseball — Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell — in a row.
And fan voting adds a special element to the moment. Fans selected Sosa, McGwire and Bagwell. The lineup Martinez so elegantly handled — a moment that will live on in baseball history forever — was in part created by fans. And it should be that way.
But, since 2003, the MLB All-Star game has meant something more than the thrill of stardom. That year, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig, after a disappointing tie to end the 2002 All-Star Game, declared that the game would decide home field advantage for the World Series. The league that wins the game — which previously was an exhibition game meant simply for the fans’ enjoyment — now gets a home game seven in the World Series. Historically, the home team is 11-8 overall when playing a game seven in the World Series.
There is precedent for the Commissioner’s office to intervene in the voting process. The MLB first used fan voting from 1947 until 1957. But that year, the Cincinnati Enquirer published already filled out ballots in its Sunday edition, allowing fans to literally stuff the ballot box for the Reds. This resulted in Reds players filling seven of eight starting spots. Enraged, then-Commissioner Ford Frick removed two of the Reds starters for two pretty good players — Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — and got rid of fan voting for the time being. Instead, managers and players would vote for starters.
Current commissioner Rob Manfred should be in no rush to act, though. Royals fans have made their beds — let’s let them sleep in them. I’m rooting for the NL in the All-Star game and the Royals for the rest of the year — until game seven.
Then, once karma’s done its job, let’s fix the game. It can’t have both real value and be at the whim of every casual fan’s fancy. So, get rid of the attachment of home field advantage to the game. It hasn’t added drama, only head scratching and many what-ifs by fans.
However, if Manfred does decide to take action right now, he couldn’t be blamed. But first, may I suggest Mark Teixeira at first base?