Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Vote for for All-Star Change

It seems the baseball season has barely begun and it's already time to vote for this year's All-Star teams. Through nearly 80 years of All-Star Games, several ways of voting have been tried. The fans even lost their right to vote after the Cincinnati Reds placed an inordinate number of players in the starting lineup in 1957, leaving out more deserving candidates from other teams.

They got the right back in 1970 and have been voting for the starting lineups ever since. I'm not sure it maters much whether the fans, managers or players vote for the starters. But i do know the atmosphere surrounding the game has changed. Before it became the let's-have-fun exhibition that is today, there was a time when the teams really wanted to win.

And one team apparently wanted to win more that the other. The 1960s and '70s were dominated by the National League. And some players of the time said the NL really did take the game more seriously than their counterparts. (As an AL fan back then it was hard to watch every year.)

But that has changed. The new nature of the game has been exposed in the last decade or so. There was the infamous tie game at Miller Park, and instances of players applauding opponents for robbing them of hits. At times, players would even leave the ballpark during the game lest they miss their turn on the all-important ESPYs.

Now that the game has changed why not tweak the way voting is conducted? Sure, I know baseball loves having the fans vote. It makes sense. For the next several weeks, websites and newspapers will publish stories (hey, even this website is playing along) about the voting. But the system has at least one glaring flaw.

The ballots are put together too early in the season. This year, as usual, there are assorted players on the ballot that are either out of the big leagues altogether or on the injured list. It's great to have the fans select the players they want to see. But does that mean players who are not worthy by any measure should be included on the ballot?

I understand that deciding who should be an all-star can be subjective. The young rising stars with gaudy stats deserves a place. But so, too, do stars on the downhill side of their careers. I was lucky enough to attend the 1975 game and it was thrilling to see Hank Aaron get one last at-bat in the midsummer classic. Sure, his play that year didn't merit him a spot on the team, but the roar of the crowd and a carrer that placed him among the top sluggers of all-time showed he belonged.

To fix the early ballot problem, I would start the balloting no earlier than the third week of May. With all the resources baseball has at its disposal it should have no problem choosing players after they have already had several weeks of games. The majors have already embraced online voting; perhaps the day isn't too far away when all the voting can be conducted online.

I do have to admit that eliminating this flaw would deprive at least a few fans of a little bit of fun at baseball's expense. I fondly recall going through the ballot each year with my high school pal David and meticulously voting for the players who were on the disabled list. After those were punched, we'd search for players who were having terrible years. If we still needed players to fill out the lineups, we'd write-in players we deemed worthy who had been left off the ballot.

Ending that fun seems a small price to pay for a more equitable voting system.

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