The All-Star Voting Process is Either Broken or Not Broken

The starters for the 2015 All-Star Game were announced on Sunday evening, and in a bit of a surprise, the Kansas City Royals have only four starters on the American League team: catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and outfielders Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. This led many people to declare that the process worked correctly, including the best baseball writer in the history of the world, Joe Posnanski:

Posnanksi was not alone, but the opinion was not unanimous. The second-best baseball writer in history, Rob Neyer, took issue with Posnanski and Jeff Passan and even his own colleague Ken Rosenthal, saying:

Still, I can’t quite get rid of this nagging little thought in the back of my mind that whatever the results might suggest, THE PROCESS IS ROYALLY FAKAKTA.

What else, after all, are we to make of a system that might have given us seven Kansas City Royals in the starting lineup, including Omar Infante?

What else are we to make of a system suggesting that Justin Smoak is more popular than Albert Pujols?

— “Where There’s Smoak, There’s Fire,” July 5, 2015

I like that Neyer is willing to disagree with Posnanski. They are friends, and they both spent many years as Royals fans. Posnanski was even on Neyer’s podcast recently (correctly) predicting that the Royals would only have four-ish starters on the team. Joe thinks the process worked; Rob thinks the process is broken and we just got lucky this time. (I’m paraphrasing both of them, of course.)

My first thought when I read Posnanski’s tweet was: if not for all the “talk about nothing,” we very well might have had seven Royals starting the All-Star Game. I’m sure that Josh Donaldson and Jose Altuve and others got protest votes just to get them past the Royals; that would not have happened without all the chatter. And we know that MLB tossed out a lot of invalid votes; is it absurd to think that they looked a little more closely at the Omar Infante votes than they might have without the uproar?

Ultimately, I think Neyer is correct that the process is broken, although he and I probably disagree about the specifics. He does not have a problem with the All-Star Game determining home-field advantage for the World Series, saying recently that the alternatives — going back to the old system of alternating years between leagues or tying it to the leagues’ interleague play records — are not significantly better. What I don’t understand is why the most logical (to me, anyway) option rarely gets discussed: in every other round of the postseason, home-field advantage goes to whichever of the two participating teams had the best regular-season record. Why does the World Series need to be different?

In my opinion, MLB needs to decide what they want the All-Star Game to be. Do they want it to be an exhibition game where the fans vote on which players they want to see? Or do they want it to be a meaningful game where both teams try their best to win? They’ve been trying to have it both ways for over a decade now, and it doesn’t work.

MLB is clearly very invested in getting as many incoming votes (and the corresponding online ad revenue) as possible. There is nothing wrong with that. But they make it so easy for fans to vote so many times for players who are so undeserving that it does not make sense to tie anything as tangibly valuable as home-field advantage to the result of those votes.

Baseball has two options:

  1. They can do all of the following:
    1. Crack down on people voting from multiple email addresses that they may or may not actually control.
    2. Eliminate the option of easily voting for all the players on your favorite team.
    3. Put some sort of qualifier on the voting so someone who is clearly undeserving can not get elected to the team.
    4. Willingly accept fewer votes in favor of more legitimate votes.
  2. Or they can stop trying to make the game matter.

Option 1 would reduce fan interest and ad revenue. Option 2 would merely reverse a knee-jerk decision Bud Selig made after getting egg on his face in his hometown in 2002.

Selig is gone; there is no reason his mistake should remain in the All-Star Game equation. Let the game be an exhibition, and let the fans vote in whoever they want, even if it’s Omar Infante.

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