Fans have right stuff on All-Star ballots

July 06, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

You people are clueless.

I figured I'd cut to the chase. Others in this business have been telling you exactly that in much wordier, windier form since Sunday night, when the baseball All-Star rosters were announced. It's a tradition in sports media - under the guise of informing the readers of who truly "deserves" to play in the game, or any other all-star game, we let you know that we think you're as dumb as a box of pine tar.

Worse, we say, you deserve to have the vote taken away from you. Yes, we're advocating disenfranchising American citizens, during the week of the Fourth of July, yet. Because you had the nerve to put Mark Loretta at second base for the American League, or to stuff the ballot box for your favorite Met instead of, say, a Padre you can't stay up late enough to watch.

You've seen and heard that argument a lot in the past few days in various places. You won't see it coming from here.

Not because the fans put all the most-deserving players into Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh. No, it's because the game is for the fans. Notice the previous sentence does not read, " ... the game is for the fans, but ... " No "but," just a period.

Baseball, like most sports, generally doesn't go out of its way for the fans, with the notable exception of turning a blind eye to performance-enhancers for about a decade. Otherwise, it's a parade of $8 beers, 8:40 p.m. World Series starts and $300 million construction bonds. Letting fans see the players they like most in the All-Star Game isn't much of a bone to throw their way, but it's something.

So if a guy punching a stack of ballots in the upper deck or clicking away online would rather vote for the guy whose jersey his son begged him to buy, instead of the guy with the best OPS in the seventh inning or later, let's let him do it in peace. He doesn't need to read in the paper the next day that his decisions are ruining the game's marquee night for everybody.

Besides, consider the source. Contrary to popular belief, for the most part the media can be trusted. Except with a ballot.

Like a Most Valuable Player ballot. A Hall of Fame ballot. A Heisman Trophy ballot. A college football or basketball poll ballot. We're typing in glass houses.

Take the MVP. And when you do take it, please define it. We never got around to it. So we each slap any criteria on it we want, to justify either voting for someone we like, or not voting for someone we don't. Thus, back in 2000, the year Jeff Kent won the National League award in a narrow vote over Barry Bonds, someone voted Bonds ninth.

Yeah, but that was six years ago. OK. Two months ago, 22 voters left Kobe Bryant out of the top five of their NBA MVP ballots. That's six more than the three players ahead of him combined.

Yeah, but Kobe's an unusual case. OK. In 1997, Karl Malone got the award largely because a lot of voters were sick of voting for Michael Jordan, and because the Mailman deserved something after all those years.

OK, MVP votes are a little subjective. The record on rankings has to be better, right? Well, in April the University of Florida became the seventh team since 1983 to win the men's college basketball title without having been ranked in the top 10 before the tournament began. That's nearly a third of the time. Plus, it wasn't ranked at all in the preseason poll - and Maryland was, in 24th.

Wait, there's more.

We have never voted anyone into the baseball Hall of Fame unanimously. And we created the Hall Within a Hall, giving certain players "first-ballot Hall of Famer" distinction and denying it to others, just because.

Here's an idea for the next exhibit in a certain well-known birthplace and museum in town: a display honoring the 11 voters for the inaugural Cooperstown class in 1936 who didn't vote for Babe Ruth. Then again, Babe got off easy: In 1979, 23 voters left Willie Mays off their ballots.

Yet we get snarky with fans who nudged Pudge Rodriguez ahead of Joe Mauer this year. And we beat them over the head with the one time the fans took it too far - in 1957, when Reds fans stuffed the ballot box and seven of the eight starters voted in were Reds.

Sorry, colleagues. We don't have much of a leg to stand on.

Oddly enough, the fans seem to be putting things in perspective. By filling the rosters with White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Mets, they're saying that they value winning instead of dry, statistical data. By throwing themselves into the Pirates' campaign for Jason Bay, they're saying they want to see that thrill of a relative unknown getting a big hometown moment.

Best of all, they're jumping all over the best voters' campaign of all time - "Punch A.J." The push to get pain-in-the-rear White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in on the final fan vote, which ends today, is pure genius. Who can't relate to that idea?

If you didn't know any better, you'd think the fans are taking this sacred responsibility and ... having fun with it. Because the game is for them.

No "but." david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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