The recent ballot box stuffing by San Francisco Giants fans that occurred for this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game brought some lingering issues with the game into the spotlight.
Brandon Crawford (2nd), Brandon Belt (2nd) and Freddy Sanchez (4th) all finished higher than they should have (statistically speaking, and time on the field speaking in Sanchez’s case) at their position in the fan voting for this year’s game. But if the game truly is a showcase of fan favorite players and is no more than an exhibition, then what’s the problem with these San Francisco players finishing so high in the voting?
Well, there are a lot of problems, especially if the league maintains the current voting structure and ramifications of the game.
1) Easiness of voting
Sorry, everybody, but the punch card ballots at the stadiums are a thing of the past. It’s no secret that California, particularly Silicon Valley, is more tech-savvy than most areas of the country. As a result, fans in this area are better suited for online voting, the MLB’s primary method of gathering votes these days.
John Fay, a beat reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, explains:
Fay is right: the Giants were certainly helped by the contingency of Silicon Valley baseball fans that have rooting interest in the Giants. Unfortunately, for the spirit of fairness and equality, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area reflect the interests of baseball fans as much as Yao Ming fans reflect those of basketball.
2) Vote fraud
MLB tried to solve problem No. 1 by implementing a 25-vote per person limit, but computer savvy fans quickly found a way around this. Fake email addresses, macros set for continuous voting – you name it, computer savvy Giants fans used it. I’ve got a buddy who actually voted 1,000 times (not kidding) and made enough email addresses (40) to accommodate his voting desire.
Then, of course, there’s Twitter. Twitter is great. It’s instant news. But It’s also an instant how-to-vote-more-than-25-times informer.
Needless to say, after I showed him this tweet, said friend was a little unhappy.
Of course, Twitter supported things less frowned upon by MLB, too. Twitter was viral with San Francisco Giants tweets, complete with #VoteBuster, #VoteMelky, #VoteAngel and #VotePanda, all of which were marketed to the public by the Giants organization. In this case, Fay is probably right – the abundance of iPhones (and other smart phones, but I quote directly for our Apple-loving, current lead editor Scott Warfe) definitely played a large role in the voting for Giants, and other players, for that matter.
The Giants campaign wasn’t just on Twitter, either. All Giants broadcasts, whether on television and KNBR, were filled with vote campaigns. While there is nothing expressly wrong with such campaigns, not every team can afford them.
But if the All-Star Game is just a talent showcase for the fans, then does it matter? Well, to answer that, Baseball would need to be more explicit about the intent of the game:
1) Should the All-Star Game showcase the players fans want to see?
2) Should the All-Star Game showcase the best players in baseball?
The pleasant answer would be both. In an ideal world, the best players would be the ones most fans want to see.
But it doesn’t work that way.
Fan voting will never be perfect, as it could be argued that the fans who take the time to make the extra effort deserve to be better represented in the voting. Likewise, it could be argued that fan voting is the only way to get an idea of who the fans want to see.
Maybe that’s all true, and we will all have to accept an imperfect system for the game. After all, the game doesn’t really matter.
But wait, the game does matter. In fact, it matters quite a bit.
After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB decided that the All-Star Game would determine home field advantage in the World Series. Prior to that, the home team alternated every year between the National and American Leagues.
Since the change took place, the team with the home field advantage in the World Series is 6-4. Historically speaking, though, the team with home field advantage only wins about half the time.
That being said, the game still dictates something of significant importance for the season, the players and the league as a whole. And fans are deciding who starts the game – a game that MLB is set on making more than just a showcase (remember all those “This One Counts” commercials?).
Of course, fans are not the only ones who decide – the player ballot sends pitchers and some reserves to the game, and the manager of each team fills out the rosters. But when all is said and done, the fans can significantly affeect the roster, for better or for worse. Crawford is a good player, but imagine the outrage if he had gotten 300,000 more votes to start the game at shortstop and he knocked a better player out of the game. That wouldn’t be good for baseball, the Giants, or Brandon Crawford.
So, now, there’s the issue of what to do about it, as T points out in this comment:
Rock, paper, scissors isn’t the answer, but if MLB wants the game to matter and have a significant impact on the season, then the members of each team should be decided on by the Baseball Writers Association of America (instead of the fans), the players and the coaches. They know who deserves to be there best, and they (hopefully) will not be swayed by marketing tactics of teams and fans.
But that eliminates the fans, so who’s going to watch it (since fans are integral to the game), and what will consumers care (because it really is all about the money)?
The simple answer is no one will care because fans will be removed from the game, so MLB won’t make any money.
Thus, MLB needs to rethink its strategy.
Baseball should adopt the NBA model and have the team with the best regular season record have home field advantage in the World Series (something baseball has never done) and have the All-Star Game be a true exhibition and talent showcase. Although a separate argument, this set-up would stress the importance of the regular season (something MLB struggles with) and make the games more relevant to the fans.
But even with that restructuring, the above problems will still exist. However, the difference will be that the game won’t dictate something of importance for the rest of the baseball season. This way the aforementioned problems will affect the fans, not the players. The All-Star Game will be what it was originally intended to be when Arch Ward, former sports editor of The Chicago Tribune, thought the idea up back in 1933 – a showcase of the best baseball players in the world for the fans.
Right now, MLB is stuck between two systems: One that favors fans by giving them the power to see who they want in the game, and the other that empowers the players and coaches to make the game more of their own celebration. MLB needs to decide which side they want to choose because right now the middle ground is causing more problems than it’s fixing.
Either way, there will still be snubs, imperfections and debates. But that’s also what makes the game fun for everyone, particularly the fans.
Maybe you’re like The Guy and you aren’t too upset about all of this because it is just an exhibition game, but Bud Selig has made sure that it’s more than that. That’s why, despite the problems with fan voting, the All-Star Game should return to being a true exhibition and talent showcase for the fans that doesn’t strive to be more than it should be.