On-line ballot stuffing creates a Royal injustice

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LLANO, Tex. — Major League Baseball can’t figure out what its All-Star Game should be, what it should mean.  Contradictions abound.  The captains of the industry want a big event.  They also want it to be an exhibition.  But one that means something.  Like  determining home-field advantage in the World Series.

They want to preserve traditions.  But they want to be modern.  So this year, for the first time, they turned over the All-Star voting entirely to the worldwide web.  Every e-mail account gets up to 35 ballots.  So if you have six e-mail addresses and exactly no life, you can deliver 210 ballots in a relatively short amount of time.

The Kansas City Royals showed something rarely seen in baseball: marketing genius.  They had their broadcasters constantly urging fans to vote.  Which they did.  So now we have not just Kansas City but the entire nation talking about eight Royals likely to start in the All-Star Game, July 14 in baseball’s heartland, Cincinnati.

Kansas City is just the country’s 26th-largest, and you may recall last September when Royals manager Ned Yost complained about lack of fan support.  The Royals drew under 2 million for the season.  But their fan base, enlarged by last year’s American League pennant – and active marketing – now extends across the Great Plains. 

Jason Schock of Falls City, Neb., told the Kansas City Star that he’s collected e-mail addresses from friends and their friends and has “voted thousands of times.” 

Pitcher David Price is miffed about Detroit’s streak of five years with at least one starting All-Star being in jeopardy because the election is fixed and Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias are losing.  He tweeted: “The All-Star Game is not a popularity contest.  It’s for home-field advantage (for whatever reason) in the World Series.  Best players play.”

Actually, All-Star voting has long been a popularity contest.  Baseball has gone back and forth on this concept, and maybe it’s time to step back again.  Prior to 1947, big-league managers determined the lineups.

For the first decade of fan rule, there were no major scandals.  But in 1957 Cincinnati Reds fans went on a stuffing rampage.  They wrote seven of their homeys into the National League starting lineup.  Commissioner Ford Frick vetoed two of them, and we’ll see if Rob Manfred invokes this precedent.

For many years the complaint was that New York players had an inherent advantage with their large fan base.  But it used to be you had to go to the games and pick up some ballots before you could stuff the box.

Surprisingly, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, MVP of the American League who rarely speaks out about anything, came to Kansas City’s defense:  “The majority of those guys are having great years, so you can’t take it away from them.” 

Far be it for me to tell people how to vote or to suppress them from voting, as we like to do in my state.  But let’s consider Trout’s assertion, along with Price’s.

First: Cabrera is a probable Hall of Famer.  This year, as usual, he leads KC’s Eric Hosmer in home runs, BA, OPS, just about everything.  But he’s 1.4 million behind in the balloting. 

At second, Omar Infante leads Houston’s Jose Altuve by 309,000 votes, triggering this protest from Orioles manager Buck Showalter:  “Is there a virus in the computer?  What’s Infante hitting, .204?”

Not only that, he has a .219 on-base average, compared to .330 for Altuve.

As for Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, he’s under .300 in on-base average, while Iglesias, a Gold Glove contender, is .392 and has 2.8 million fewer votes.

At third base, Mike Moustakas has not had nearly the season or career of Toronto’s Josh Donaldson.  This season Donaldson has three times the homers, twice the RBIs and 70 percent of his All-Star vote, with the balloting deadline July 2.

At catcher, Salvador Perez is playing well enough to be an All-Star.  But a better case can be made for Toronto’s Russell Martin and Oakland’s Stephen Vogt.

I’ll say this, the outfield is true blue with Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon.  I’d vote for them (along with Trout) if they weren’t already so over-loved.

But with apologies to Chris Berman, how about Kendrys You-Gotta-Be-Kidding-Me Morales at DH?  Nelson Cruz is outhitting him by 40 points and has 11 more homers.

So I see two Royals deserving to start.  And Perez is close enough to deserving that I wouldn’t protest him being in the lineup.  I suppose you have to give the Royals fans something for their misguided efforts so it doesn’t look like bait-and-switch.

But what if this scheme backfires on the Royals?  They have the best record in their league and could lose home-field advantage in the World Series – which they enjoyed last year – if the AL’s diluted lineup blows the All-Star Game. 

Price apparently disagrees, but I think Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, was right to make this event more than a beauty pageant.  However, I doubt Selig would have approved on-line ballot stuffing of this magnitude.

Manfred is having a good rookie year so far, cutting down on delay-of-game.  But now he needs to perform the main duty of any commissioner: protect the integrity of his sport.  Keep in mind, the All-Star Game is more significant now than it was when Frick was commish, because in those days it had no effect on World Series home field.

I’m guessing most Kansas City ballot-stuffers are not on the Missouri side of town.   I can’t believe the Show Me State would join in such chicanery.  Where I live, in the hills of Central Texas, Baseball-on-Line is not yet taking hold.  There are people in my very rural county who have no access to the Internet.  So they can’t vote?

I thought voter suppression is a southern thing, but this policy came out of New York, where the smart folks live.  They figured out how to multiply the vote and make it look like baseball is more popular than it really is.

The Royals and their fans, shrewdly operating within the new rules, make a mockery of the All-Star Game that for nine decades has consistently presented the sport at its finest.

This is not the NBA, NFL or NHL, where they play no defense and nobody cares who wins.  They don’t bring people out of retirement to choose up sides for this all-star game.

Next to the World Series, this is baseball’s greatest showcase.  We can count on it for  fast graceful, memorable athletic feats and Rembrandt-painting.  David Price is an established All-Star himself, and good for him that he wants to protect the brand.  I hope Rob Manfred feels the same way.

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