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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on July 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 20 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 20

The Benchwarmer

All-Star popularity contest

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Fellow benchwarmers, we can all agree that my love for baseball doesn’t come as a surprise. For avid baseball fans, July marks a special time of year: the All-Star break. Now past its 84th edition, the race to the World Series takes a pause as the best of the best from the American and National leagues duke it out for the glory. And what’s not to love about watching baseball’s top ballers play together on one field?

Sigh. At least that’s the way it used to be. I remember when I would get excited for the All-Star game and actually watch it. Now, I’d rather catch up on missed television shows until the over-promoted All-Star game is over.

As a baseball fan, it saddens me that I’ve reached this point but, at the same time, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on much. To my Benchwarming eyes, the All-Star game has become little more than a glorified popularity contest. It’s almost like everyone reverts to his or her high school days, the one stage in our lives we should never go back to.

That nuisance aside, my biggest issue with the All-Star break is that it no longer represents the quality of baseball it used to in regard to players. While some of the players are very deserving of the honor, we baseball fans have to start being real about how other ballers make the cut. The process of voting players into the All-Start game has become ridiculous.

From the very beginning, there are flaws in the voting system: Teams have to submit their All-Star lineups before the beginning of the season, which means that, by the time the break comes around in July, the lineup doesn’t reflect the top players. The second flaw is that voting starts in April, which is far too early. A player could have a .208 batting average in April, but that figure will likely change, sometimes drastically, by the time July rolls around. The voting is done primarily online, with fans selecting the players they want to represent their team.

Inarguably, baseball is a combination of athleticism, beating the odds, and numbers. Ideally, fans should pick All-Stars based on the numbers/performance component. But, instead, the voting has become more about “homerism” and making sure the favored players are there to represent the team.

The 2013 All-Star voting process and break did not fail to disappoint me, but I’ll admit it was less disappointing than recent years. When I broke it down by numbers—the way it should be done—I found quite a few players were there based on fan votes and past reputation, not current performance levels.

Take, for instance, the voting in the National League, which was much more problematic than the American League (don’t get me started on the Giants ballot stuffing). Joey Votto of the Reds and Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks were the top picks for first base. While Votto had a .317 batting average and 15 home runs going into the break, Goldschmidt had a .333 batting average and 14 home runs. Personally, I would have gone for Goldschmidt.

Then there was Buster Posey up against Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz. Posey is having an all right year. Molina is staying strong with a .311 batting average, but he still trails Carlos Ruiz, who has a .358. While Molina is clearly having the better season, Posey still sticks in fans’ minds as a National League MVP.

Then there was the National League outfield with Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton, and Bryce Harper. Beltran and Upton don’t belong; Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzales both had strong seasons and trailed during much of the voting. Other deserving outfielders include Domonic Brown and Dexter Fowler. While I have a soft spot for the young Bryce Harper, who is having strong season, his run-in with the wall at Dodger Stadium left him injured and not a good candidate for the All-Stars.

I was impressed with the pitching lineups, though I couldn’t quite figure out why Detroit’s Justin Verlander was there. Verlander has been trying to fix some issues with his pitching. While he is a solid hurler, his numbers this year didn’t warrant his presence.

Perhaps the biggest All-Star snub this year was the Angel’s star second baseman, Howie Kendrick. Admittedly, I’m an Angel’s fan, but even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t argue against the numbers he’s been putting up this season. Despite a .310 batting average, .352 on-base percentage, 11 home runs, and 40 RBIs, Kendrick wasn’t included in the final vote for All-Star second baseman. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I blame the Angel’s fans.

I will concede that this year’s All-Star game, despite the SF Giants attempting to overtake the National League team, offered up a better selection of players to represent the MLB. The competition between baseball’s best oldest and youngest players made for a great game, but the underlying problems remain.

What I’m curious to know is what factors into fans’ voting? Is it about blind team loyalty or discerning taste? I suppose it would depend on what type of fan category you fall into: The fan who likes to watch baseball, support a team, and has some understanding of the game. Or the fan who follows a team/player religiously, pays attention to the numbers, and has a greater appreciation for baseball than the average Joe. The second set of fans should be the ones voting for the All-Star representatives.

Pardon my faux pas as I tie in sports with politics, but it goes without saying that voting is a process that requires informed constituents. Just as voting for president has become a complex popularity contest, so has voting for MLB All-Stars.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, and not every baseball fan is required to follow the sport diligently. But I feel being informed is a key requirement of voting, no matter what type of fan you are. I love Mike Trout, for numerous reasons, but if he was putting up a .250 batting average I wouldn’t vote him into the All-Stars because there’s always someone who has worked harder and done better.

Aside from the popularity, the voting has become a contest of homerism—i.e. how many people can we vote in to represent San Francisco or New York? While team-centric voting is to be expected, the performance factor can’t be ignored.

I feel that some fans vote for players based on their past reputations, regardless of the season they’re having. This isn’t fair because it prevents other deserving players from having their shot in the All-Star game.

Essentially, there has to be a way to balance out the voting process.

One option is to go back to the best team record deciding home-field advantage. Another solution is to remove fan participation altogether and create a committee that picks All-Star players based on numbers and performance, not votes and number of Twitter followers. The least favorable option is to let it continue the way it is, and baseball fans will have to be satisfied with the flux of good and bad All-Star games. I think the best solution would be to let managers decide the lineup in June, and then allow fans to vote for an outfielder, infielder, pitcher, and/or reserve players. Unfortunately, the fan base has proven it isn’t informed enough to make these decisions on its own.

Like I said, the 2013 All-Star game boasted a more credible lineup than years past. But if the voting pattern continues in this homerism, team-centric, high-school-popularity-contest fashion, there are sure to be more upsets coming down the pike.

But what do I know? I’m just a Benchwarmer.

 

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell believes in the power of numbers. Contact her at ksewell@santamariasun.com.