MLB Retires Paper All-Star Ballots

The advancement of modern technology and communication transformed our culture over the past generation by removing previous barriers in society. Once a vast array of multifaceted personalities separated with geographic constraints, our world compressed and messages became instant. Gratification, reward, and fulfillment would arrive without thought and the economy flourished as new jobs opened in the private sector utilizing an untapped industry. The arrival of efficient communication via the internet would consequently eliminate the use of previous means of conveyance, such as phone booths, catalogs, and encyclopedias. As the band Queen once said, “another one bites the dust”. This time the casualty is the paper ballots synonymous with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Bob Bowman the president of business and media made this fate a finality on Tuesday, announcing that all future voting will be conducted exclusively through and its digital applications.

The use of fan participation in the midsummer classic dates back to 1947 when fans were granted the opportunity to vote for the position players deemed worthy enough to partake in the contest. Fan voting would seize a decade later when fans of the Cincinnati Reds stuffed the ballot box, electing each position player from the club. Commissioner Ford Frick attempted to reverse the result, removing two Reds from the National League squad and putting an end to fan voting. As the rise of the National Football League took shape during the late 1960s, coinciding with the rise of liberalism and the break from social norms, baseball began to slowly wane in influence and popularity. The promotional department of the game sought means to recapture the market share they once held and decided to restore fan balloting. The fans would once again vote for the eight position players from each league, while the managers would select the game’s starting pitcher. Voting would commence roughly three weeks into the season, as ballot boxes would be installed throughout big league ballparks across the country. The process would involve a cardboard piece of paper filled with holes capable of puncturing to represent each participant. An individual would carefully choose one player by taking a pen, pencil, or pin and severing the hole or chad. All-Star balloting would become a tradition between fathers, sons, and friends, sharing the commonalities of a game they held dear in their hearts and developing an affinity for the next generation of greats.

Like any procedure, the All-Star ballot would not be absent of controversy and questions of integrity. From Terry Steinbach in 1988 to Derek Jeter in 2014, the process would become defined by popularity and trends. Sometimes the theme would be the host city seeking to elect their own, while other instances focused on honoring an outgoing icon, long after his decline overshadowed his physical peak. Regardless of basis, paper balloting became a ballpark tradition and in the days when the Saturday Game of the Week held high esteem in the public conscious, the All-Star Game would be the lone event outside of the World Series to witness the heroics and greatness of the opposite league. Interleague play would be years away and the opportunity to see the premier players in the sport convene in one spot would be an occasion circled on the calendar for all baseball fans to relish and adore. The final decade of the 20th century would slowly alter tradition and the means used to connect with the outside world. The Internet, once a tool for military use would find its way into our homes, forever altering our lives. As people began to shop, chat, and pay bills online, companies began to use the medium as a means of self-promotion. Major League Baseball and its franchises developed their own websites, devising methods of selling tickets, hosting videos, and providing statistical information. By 1999 All-Star voting would migrate to the Internet and complement paper ballots. A 22 vote limit would be instituted by Major League Baseball, but failure to account for potential cyber hackers and dexterous computer wizards led to a slew of controversy and anguish when 25 year old Massachusetts native Chris Nandor discovered a loophole in baseball’s server, which allowed him to vote for shortstop Nomar Garciaparra an additional 25,000 times. The miscalculation allowed Garciaparra to be elected as the starter at shortstop for the All-Star Game in his home ballpark ahead of contemporaries such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Baseball would ultimately correct its digital shortcomings by 2000 through a collective division tasked with managing all of league’s technology, known as MLB Advanced Media.

Recognition of a revolution can take a considerable amount of time and investment before the wave of adoption reaches universal support and backing. Major League Baseball would always be slower than most at embracing new technology. From radio to television to the Internet, baseball would eventually support its develop after initially fearing its business model. The evolution of online transmission would be realized in 2002 when a vote for the final man on each all-star squad would be conducted exclusively on shortly after the selection of the team’s complete rosters. The initiative would prove to be a massive success for both and the fans who had another method of voting. As time passed as it often does, online balloting would begin to overtake the traditional paper vote and the evolution of smartphones and mobile apps would eventually render the old school voting from our father’s generation obsolete and an anachronism of an era no longer applicable to contemporary society. In a March 9th memo to Bloomberg News, Bob Bowman claimed that eighty percent of all voting during the 2014 season occurred through online means. Of the twenty million ballots prints for major league ballparks, just four million were cast, with dwindling returns in each passing year. The era of the paper ballot would effectively end beginning with the upcoming season.

As stated earlier the use of the Internet has altered the ways we interact with the world around us. Its stability and organization captivate us for hours on end and continues to be the primary reason our eyes become fixated to our phones and mobile devices. The cost for digital rights and content continues to increase and has become the fundamental principle for every television contract in professional sports. Some may look fondly upon the ease and nostalgia of composing a written ballot, popping out the tabs and accidentally multiple ones, rendering it invalid, unbeknownst to the individual. Others perhaps never understood the concept or grew up entirely exposed to online balloting. A practice once a staple at ballparks throughout the game will cease to exist come April and may hinder the game’s elder fans who comprise a vast amount of the sport’s demographic. The elimination of physical media is yet another step towards a digital exclusive world. Online publications are not a foreign concept for Major League Baseball. Back in 2009, baseball decided to forgo producing physical versions of the league and media directories for members of the press. PDF versions of those periodicals are the only ones produced each season and exemplify the societal evolution of the game internally. Memories of a simpler time resonate as adaptation and advancement changes future course. The loss of a physical all-star ballot reminds us of baseball’s ongoing struggle to reach the new generation of fans. Somebody we could potentially witness the end of printed scorecards, game notes, or statistics. Technology at the edges of our fingertips allows us to collect and obtain information once closed to the general public. Past convention slowly gives way to innovation, and regardless of acceptance or rebuff emerges as a sign of the time, resigning us to harken back to the memory bank and reflect on the progression of prevailing culture.

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