Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is an annual tradition meant to showcase the very best while determining home-field advantage for the World Series. Except, this year, many of the game's best players won't be in the starting lineup if current voting results hold. No Miguel Cabrera. No Nolan Arenado. And Mike Trout is losing ground. Explain that one to your kids and future generations.
As it's currently constructed, the MLB All-Star Game is severely flawed and long overdue for a change.
MLB All-Star starting participants used to be selected by the managers of their respective teams, based on strengths and performance leading up to the halfway mark. In 1947, fans were permitted to vote for the starting position player of their choice, but after Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot boxes in 1957 and voted all but one of the team's starting position players to the starting eight, the commissioner stepped in and removed two Reds from the ballot.
The ability for fans to vote for position players was removed, not reinstated again until 1970 when MLB thought fan interest was fading. The current system of using the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage for the World Series dates back to a change made by then-commissioner Bud Selig after the 2002 game resulted in a tie. Remember the slogan, "This one counts"?
Before the start of the 2015 season, MLB changed how fans could vote for its starting All-Stars. Prior to the 2015 season, fans had the ability to vote online or with a paper ballot at ballparks. That was removed and baseball transitioned to a 100-percent online voting system, with the hope that doing so would create more fan interaction and drive up votes. Well, that happened, except it didn't have the effect for which it hoped. And it's taking the control of what has become an important game, for actual players, out of the players' hands:
An all star game IS NOT a popularity contest...it's for home field advantage (for whatever reason) for the World Series!! Best players play— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) June 10, 2015
Currently the Royals hold the lead for seven of the nine starting positions for the American League team. The St. Louis Cardinals occupy four of the eight positions in the National League. Players who haven't performed well at all, even unwanted by fans of their own teams, have been voted onto the AL All-Star team. Essentially, Royals fans are electronically stuffing the ballot boxes and Cardinals votes aren't far behind. The All-Star Game is shaping up to look more like a Royals-Cardinals interleague game, with a few honorable mentions thrown in to appease the crowd.
Using the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series is a mistake. However, since it seems baseball is stuck with the system for the foreseeable future, logic would dictate that the best players -- or at least those who are in the top two during a close race -- should be the ones determining who gets that advantage. While managers do choose subsequent players who replace the game's starters, the decision for who starts the game currently lies with the fans.
From a fan perspective, seeing a display of power or an impressive play is why we watch the All-Star Game, as well as having our favorite teams represented in the starting lineup. But from the looks of the current ballot, that won't be the case. And that's not right. Royals fans shouldn't be blamed for making an impressive show of support for their team. Instead, MLB should realize this is a problem of their own creation. For one, 35 votes per email allows for an unfair advantage, and eliminating voting at ballparks seems to have only hurt. And you can look at the current results for the latest example.
Removing the fans' complete ability to vote isn't something to be advocated for, but they should only be part of the result. Having a dual selection based on fan votes and manager selection, should. In the event of a toss-up, fan input is a perfect example of where MLB could defer to the fans on who they would rather see. Ensuring every team is represented shouldn't come down solely to the pitchers or backup players, and for an event that's become a necessity, players who haven't performed well shouldn't be rewarded.
For example, in the AL you could choose between either the A's Stephen Vogt or the Blue Jays' Russell Martin at catcher. Both have performed outstandingly behind the dish this season, and holding a subsequent vote would help determine the final outcome. Josh Donaldson of the Jays, not Mike Moustakas, should be the starting third baseman. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Jose Iglesias are easily the best players at their respective positions in the AL this year, and both have hit extremely well.
On the NL side, the Rockies' Nolan Arenado should be starting at third, having a monster season both offensively and with the glove, while an argument could be made for both Zack Cozart from the Reds or the Giants' Brandon Crawford at shortstop.
Despite all of the above players having outstanding seasons, none are leading and some players like Arenado and Cozart are in fourth and fifth, respectively, in fan voting. Some players have played no more than a handful of games and have done poorly both on offense and defensively, yet they lead. Outfielder selections are based on votes first, then positioned by the manager. Otherwise, were the outcome determined by a player's true position, Trout would not be starting at all. There are other examples in the current ballot for who should be leading, but you get the point.
It's all subjective, and the above selections are based on offense and defense, not popularity -- and the All-Star Game shouldn't be; it's meant to be reserved for the best players. But you see just how messed up the system is. The All-Star Game was originally meant to be an exhibition event, a way for the best players to take part in something lighthearted and be rewarded for their hard work. Now, it's become just another "popularity" competition.
That is, unless you view it from the perspective of MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred: "If you had to choose between, let's alternate every other year, and let's award home-field advantage based on the All-Star Game -- we're moving in the right direction," Manfred said recently during a visit to Detroit. "I'm not saying it's the perfect rule, but it is better than the rule that we used to have, in my view. While I understand, and I do understand, that there are more competitively pure rules for awarding home-field advantage, I think this is one of those situations where fans have gotten a great benefit from a rule that may be less than perfect in an absolute sense."
But if MLB is going to keep the system as-is, something needs to be done beyond the current structure in place. Either let fans influence an event that should have no bearing on what could ultimately decide who takes the World Series, or take them out of it and keep it competitive. Because as it's currently constructed, the method is merely a train wreck waiting to happen.
Despite the skewed ongoing voting, the overall consensus among the fans themselves is that fans should either not be able to vote, or should only have a partial say in the final selection. And a large number of fans don't even vote, because they think the process is "dumb," or "stupid," and are tired of MLB trying to buy their loyalty -- particularly when they already have it.
MLB may believe that the recent changes are to appeal to the younger generation, but on the whole, fans view that as attempting to push for an agenda, rather than understanding them. And ultimately the focus of the All-Star Game should be an event for the best players, instead of focusing on the fans. Unfortunately it might take a Royals-Cardinals near-sweep for MLB to see how flawed the MLB All-Star Game system is.