‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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It happens year after year.
Some player from some middling team who by the way happens to be the best at his position gets voted in as an All-Star sub instead of a starter because of the fan vote.
David Wright is the guy this year. He lost out on a starting spot in his sixth All-Star appearance next Tuesday to San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval because major league baseball not only left voting for starters up to the fans, but condoned the old Chicago Machine method of election.
Stuff the box.
In this case, the virtual ballot box.
At least fans don’t have to dig up the memories — and identification papers — of long-deceased relatives to get their guy an All-Star start. It’s not a one-man, one-vote system, which makes sense because who’s got the money or inclination to police such a thing.
But this year’s balloting simply proves, once again, that you can’t trust fans to do as good a job as a professional manager in setting a starting lineup. And that, along with the utterly stupid practice of awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of this game, is why the All-Star Game needs to change back the way it used to be.
Before 1970, when the fans permanently got the vote, the managers picked the teams for this mid-summer exhibition game that, rightfully, contributed nothing toward postseason competition. The only potential carryover from this game was through injury, and who can foresee that?
We still had controversies. Managers might pick their guy over somebody bearing better stats but less familiarity. But for the most part, fans got to see a truly representative, legitimate array of first-half stars, especially in the starting lineup.
That’s why the fans lost the vote in the first place. Fan balloting actually started in 1947 and lasted until ‘57, when Cincinnati crazies stuffed the boxes and voted seven Reds and Stan Musial to the starting lineup. Guess they couldn’t overlook Musial, as if anybody could. But they apparently did bypass a couple of guys nobody would remember now — Willie Mays and Hank Aaron!
Commissioner Ford Frick rectified that by replacing Wally Post and Gus Bell with Mays and Aaron, and then returned the selection process to the players, coaches, and managers.
Which brings us to the Wright/Sandoval controversy. Wright goes into today’s game against the Phillies as the NL’s second-best hitter at .354, with nine homers and 50 RBI. Sandoval is hitting .307 with six homers and 25 RBI, and missed more than four weeks with a broken left hand.
Who’s better? Clearly Wright, despite some shaky fielding (and who counts that?) in which he’s committed eight errors, second-most next to Daniel Murphy’s nine on one of baseball’s worst-fielding teams.
And for a while, the fans had it right. Wright was leading in the voting last Tuesday by 460,000. But then those crazed Giants fans got into it and stuffed the ballot box to the gills with their guys.
When the flurry ended, Sandoval had his starting spot by a 1.6 million vote margin.
Just for perspective’s sake, here’s the most curious of the San Francisco totals. Freddy Sanchez came in fourth among NL second basemen with 2,289,147 votes. Pretty good support for an injured guy who hasn’t played this year.
San Francisco fans also voted for starting catcher Buster Posey more than seven million times, setting a record for any NL player at any position.
Those who want desperately to hang onto the commoner vote will say it’s all the Mets fans’ fault. They didn’t come out for Wright like they should have. They’d be correct, too.
It could be a function of the Giants leading the NL West, 10 games above .500, while the rest of the world waits for the second-place Mets to collapse after a shockingly strong first half. Or maybe it’s because Giants fans are just, you know, coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over their guys.
The point is that it never should have come down to that. Let the managers take care of that. Making choices is what they’re paid to do, anyway. And the lineups they’ll come up with will return a far more legitimate feel to the game than what we have today.
That said, at least KC’s Kauffman Stadium won’t have to deal with an even bigger controversy this year.
Derek Jeter said he’ll show up.
Do you think it’s time to get rid of the fan vote? Be heard in the comments below!