Major League Baseball has announced the early voting totals for the All-Star game starting lineups. Not surprisingly, several undeserving names hover at or near the top of the voting. We all know how the process works by now; the fans cast their ballots for their favorite players, whether or not that player has missed significant time or is having a poor start to the season.
This was all fine and good for several years, before the infamous tie game in 2002. The public fallout from that game lead the commissioner to adopt a new policy stating that the league that wins the all-star game would gain home-field advantage in the world series. This policy places much more significance of the outcome of what was otherwise an exhibition game. I recall watching the late innings of the 2002 game in Milwaukee, seeing the benches and bullpens dwindle of available players, it was exciting. Then Bud Selig literally threw up his hands and called the game a tie, and everyone when home unfulfilled. I am in favor of the home-field rule, as it does make the all-star game an important event. However, the increased importance of the game's outcome must also lead to a refined process of selecting members of the opposing teams. Big names are nice for exhibition games, but when the outcome matters, I want the best players (or at least the players having the best seasons) on my team.
With the release of the early totals for the American League ballots, three names stand out among the leaders, Josh Hamilton(2nd) and Ken Griffey Jr. (4th)in the outfield and Kevin Youkilis(1st) at first base (thankfully there is no DH this year or I'm sure David Ortiz would be there too). The National League vote is even uglier, as Manny Ramirez, currently serving a 50 game suspension, sits fourth among outfielders. J.J. Hardy leads the shortstop balloting, and Bill Hall (2nd) is within reach of grabbing the starting third base job. In actuality, Brewers fans have done a great job voting for all of their players, but are doing a vast disservice to the game itself. Hall is carrying a .223/.289/.377 line this season, Hardy is at least a bit better at .247/.329/.411.
Hamilton, Ramirez and Youkilis have all missed significant time in the first half, but were having good starts to the year prior to missing games. But the possibility of Raul Ibanez not starting for the NL, while Ramirez may still get that chance is a joke. And Carlos Pena, Justin Morneau, and Miguel Cabrera must all be holding their breath, as Youkilis' inclusion would likely mean that at least one of those guys won't even make the trip to St. Louis.
The Griffey situation is one that has been commonplace since the fans got the vote, a formerly great player, well past his prime, that is still dear to the hearts of so many fans getting a boost in the balloting. It is also a perfect example of how the recent emphasis on winning this game should lead to the removal of the fans from the process. For years, aging stars were ceremonially placed on all-star teams, Cal Ripken Jr. started many a game after his numbers fell off. In 1989, Mike Schmidt retired near the end of May after getting off to a terrible start, and was still voted to start the all-star game, which he politely declined.
I understand the sentimental reasons for wanting to see the all-time greats on the big stage again, but if home-field in the world series is on the line, do you want the game to possibly hinge on Ken Griffey Jr? I don't. Give me the guys having big seasons and I'll take my chances. And as a Tiger fan, here's hoping those folks in Milwaukee keep stuffing the ballot boxes.