all-star, Awards, Brian

Major League All-Star Game: A Fallible Process

How do you measure greatness? What does it mean to be “the best”? In most cases, people who are in a certain industry control and dictate value. Art critics and appraisers decide how much a painting is worth. Directors, actors, producers, and writers choose which movies will win an Oscar or Golden Globe. Day traders determine the cost of stocks. In baseball experts decide who…hold on…that doesn’t sound right.

Since 1970, fans of Major League Baseball have decided which players would start the All-Star Game (excluding the starting pitcher), supposedly picking “the best” players at each position.

One problem with this is, while baseball is America’s pastime, 90% of baseball fans know diddly squat about the game itself. An average fan doesn’t know statistics. An average fan, even if he or she attends 10, 20, 30 games a year, goes more for the atmosphere (beer, hot dogs, “oohh look that one guy hit the ball over the fence and scored us another point”) than a deep interest in outcome and stats.

Imagine if the greater population got to pick the winner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In 2011, the top grossing movies were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. “And the Oscar goes to Twilight and all its adolescent fans.”

So why let baseball fans select who starts in the All-Star Game, especially since the game now decides home field advantage in the World Series?

Another problem with giving fans this much power is ballot stuffing. From 1947-1957, fans picked who would start in the game, but in 1957, fans of the Cincinnati Reds stuffed the ballot box and selected a Red to every position except for first base. This discontinued fan voting until 1970, when it was reinstated to reignite interest in the game. In 1988, Oakland A’s fans stuffed the ballot box for Terry Steinbach, who had a mere 5 HR and 19 RBI with a .217 BA. In 1999, Nomar Garciaparra was elected to start in the game after gaining 14,000 votes due to a computer program. This year, San Francisco fans were accused of stuffing the ballot box after Buster Posey received the most votes of all time, Pablo Sandoval beat out a more deserving David Wright, and shortstop Brandon Crawford (who is hitting .240) came within 100,000 votes of starting.

Let’s take a look at some controversial picks over the past five seasons:

Year Who Started? Who Should’ve Started?
2012 Pablo Sandoval David Wright
2011 Scott Rolen Pablo Sandoval
2010 Derek Jeter Elvis Andrus
2009 Yadier Molina Brian McCann
2008 Kosuke Fukudome Nate McClouth

The All-Star Game is a popularity contest, but popularity doesn’t always indicate success, especially not in that specific year. Players like Derek Jeter and Scott Rolen benefit from being popular, not necessarily from being the best. In an age when a player’s worth is based so much on his statistics, why are we allowing the people who are least informed to play a deciding factor in who starts?


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