Why is the MLB encouraging ballot box-stuffing?

14 07 2008

Don’t blame Yankees and Red Sox fans for those two teams’ ridiculous over-representation in the All-Star game. I’ll be the first to admit there’s no way in hell Derek Jeter should be an All-Star, just as there’s no way in hell Dustin Pedroia should be a starter or Jason Varitek should be even within 200 miles of the game.
This is a problem that lies squarely with Bud Selig and the MLB brass itself. If you’ve signed up for updates from your favorite team’s website, sites that are run by the MLB, over the past 2 months you’ve been bombarded with emails saying “Vote for your favorite Yankees/Phillies/Padres/whoever.” Since there are more Yankees/Red Sox fans than everyone else, of course there’s going to be a selection bias.
The most egregious thing here, however, is that the MLB is actively encouraging these biases to continue.

Stuffing the ballot box has been a complaint for nearly as long as there’s been an All-Star game.
In 1957, after 7 Reds made the All-Star team when the Cincinatti Enquirer published pre-marked ballots, Ford Frick stripped the fans of their voting rights. Players, coaches, and executives determined the All-Stars until 1969, when fans’ frustration with the move caused Bowie Kuhn to reinstate the fan vote. That was before free agency, when players had hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars riding on an All-Star game appearance.
This year, Jeter and Varitek have effectively stolen millions of dollars from other players, whether they wanted to or not.

But those are just individual complaints. The larger effect on the game has been even more damaging. It’s one thing to not have the best players in a meaningless game; it’s another thing entirely to have it affect freaking home-field advantage of World Series.
I maxed out my 25 All-Star ballots (more on that later), and not one of them had Derek Jeter on the ballot. I was doing this as a responsible Yankees fan. Should the Yankees turn their season around and make the World Series, I would not want home field advantage determined by a shot up the middle that would force the starting shortstop to move left. If that happens, the Cubs are winning the World Series this year.

The biggest knock on Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner has been his tendency to drastically overreact to major complaints.
In some cases, his overreaction is understandable and helpful, in other cases, it just makes things worse. I’d argue that the All-Star game is his worst folly in this regard, and also his most ineffective. After the infamous All-Star game tie in 2002, even more embarrassing to Bud in that it happened in his native Milwaukee, the “this time it counts” mantra started. More than anything else, it was a TV ratings ploy, worrying fans would turn away from the game.
What Bud didn’t understand was that the All-Star game came at the most parched time for American sports of the calendar year. Unless he was worried about losing fans to MLS or WNBA games, he has a virtual monopoly on the sports scene for both the All-Star game and the Home Run Derby. Despite this, ratings have still consistently fallen every year except for 2006 since 2001, before the tie, and after the game mattered.

Ratings have gone down across the boardm for every network broadcoast, but it still shows that the MLB’s decision to make the game matter has been insignifcant in terms of the bottom line. From a baseball standpoint, however, the change has been enormous, as well as a disaster.
But as annoyed as certain players must be to see their potential income reduced for fans’ whim, imagine what they must think when the MLB actively encourages it. MLB’s hypocrisy here is startling. They want the game to matter, but their promotional material still advocates stuffing the ballot box. They’ve mandated fans giving their name to counter ballot-box stuffing, but they allow fans to vote up to 25 times, encouraging the more dedicated and therefore biased fans. They want to game to have significance for October, but they require players to be represented from teams whose seasons are already over.
Where’s the logic in this?

There are two ways to solve the problem: either get rid of the fan vote and the one player per team minimum, which will anger most fans in June, or get rid of the home-field advantage policy, which will anger no one except fo one team’s dumbass fans looking for an undeserved advantage in the World Series every other year. In only one year since the policy was put in place (2004) has the team with home field advantage not had the better regular season record anyway. The game has only “counted” once, in a year the National League team was swept. It’s time to leave it that way.

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4 responses

14 07 2008
Dave Pendleton

Although I agree with most of what’s said in this article, I’d like to go a little further.
There are more than 2 ways to fix what I call the “All Star Farce”. There are lots of ways.
I’ve been a fan of baseball for 50 years. I’ve educated myself about the game, it’s history, the players, managers, owners, parks, etc. and I can say that a little study will show that throughout baseball’s history the owners have seldom acted in the best interest of the game…including it’s poor promotion.
MLB tries to live on it’s rich history, it’s nostalgia but at the same time it continues to tinker with it…usually with bad ideas.
WHY CHANGE A WINNER?
Baseball is no longer “The Great American Pastime”. To the younger fans, even Hockey has more appeal. You see more basketball hoops and hockey goals than bats and balls in most neighborhoods. Is it any wonder?
Is it really in the best interest of the game to have a designated hitter?
It’s only caused problems. Shouldn’t both leagues play with the same rules? They use to! And there was no problem when playing a team the other league. Having a designated hitter is like having an extra queen in a chess game. Chess has gotten along just fine for centuries without an extra queen!!!
I could go on and on about all the tinkering over the years, but let me get back to the current topic.
There are certain unwritten qualifications that a player must meet in order to be elected to the Hall of Fame. That should be true to be an “All Star” as well. If the idea is that the game belongs to the fans, so they should choose who the All Stars are, then why not be just as goofy and let them decide who gets in the Hall of Fame?
I’m not even a big fan of playoffs and wild cards. At the end of the season I want to see THE BEST TWO TEAMS compete in the World Series.
The current system allows the possibility of two “also rans” to get there instead….only because it keeps fans interested in for a longer time, in the hopes that if their team can “stay close” then maybe they can have a hot streak and sneak past the team who has the most wins for the whole season. So the BEST TEAMS might end up watching the World series on TV.
The ALL Star game is not much different. Any of us can name 20 players who should represent “the best of the best” that will be watching the game on TV.
The idea that all teams should be represented is absolutely ludicrous.
Some teams simply don’t have an All Star caliber player. So I don’t want to see some third baseman get “elected” to the All Star team when he’s only hitting .260 and has 12 errors just because he’s the best that that team has and his team has to be represented. Nor do I want to see a great player on the team if he’s having a bad year. A gold glove or a batting crown LAST YEAR shouldn’t qualify a player for THIS YEAR.
If the fans are going to stuff the box for their favorite player(s) then let’s change the name to The Fan’s Game, or The Popularity Game….it’s anything BUT an ALL Star Game.
To make things worse, now the home field advantage for the World Series gets decided by this farce of a game. Who comes up with this stuff? It just gets dumber and dumber.
It was a far better Midsummer Classic when the players were chosen by their peers…they know who the best players are…and being chosen by them is a bigger honor to the players who make the team.
To me, that’s what makes the game “matter”.

15 07 2008
withmalice

Phenomenal comment Doug…
First time here we’ve had an article written in response to an article!

15 07 2008
New Trends » Blog Archive » mlb network

[…] Why is the MLB encouraging ballot box-stuffing?Ratings have gone down across the boardm for every network broadcoast, but it still shows that the MLB’s decision to make the game matter has been insignifcant in terms of the bottom line. From a baseball standpoint, however, … – […]

19 07 2008
Sportsattitude

I have never been a big fan of all-star games. In regard to baseball, basketball and hockey, they occur in the middle of the season. With the “cost” of these players and the big business sports have become…while a player can be lost for the year – or for good – on any single moment, play, etc…I just think they, like some other traditions, are best left to memories of a more simpler era. Football is a sport where its absolutely absurd to have an all-star game, asking players to sit a month…and then play a game which is so violent they are often held out of their own team’s pre-season games. Get rid of them all.

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