Daily Bits: Fans are the real All-Stars

2014-06-19T10:30:00Z 2014-06-20T23:49:58Z Daily Bits: Fans are the real All-StarsBernie Miklasz bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

Good morning. Your Daily Bernie Bits for Thursday, June 19: 

Isn't it about time for hopelessly uptight sportswriters to wag a finger, form a lemon-wedge-in-the-mouth sour face and admonish fans for some voting trends in the 2014 MLB the All-Star ballot? That's become part of the tradition. MLB invites the fans to vote, the fans vote, and too many of America's sportswriters get the vapors. That leads to lectures on fan-level intelligence and the need for voting reform.

Several comments: 

The All-Star Game is the fans' game, so they should vote for the players they want to see, and they can vote as often as they'd like. And whatever they come up with, fine. The cost of watching baseball isn't cheap; in addition to ticket prices and food-beverage prices, customers shell out cash money for extras such as the MLB's TV-radio package, the MLB "At Bat" app. It's why the industry is now bringing in $7 billion a year. The fan vote is one way to directly involve the public, and it's also good for promoting the sport. Which means it's good business. Ripping it away from the fans would be an act of utter contempt, and bad PR.

As is, MLB has put in safeguards -- incorporating player votes -- to ensure a more balanced voting process. I don't even think that's necessary. It only complicates what should be a simple task, and the people who play and manage and coach the game bring their own biases to the table when filling out the ballot.

In my view, the fans are the real All-Stars. They keep investing their money into the product and have provided MLB with a sustained run of robust financial health.  

What's that? You say I'm wrong about this because the All-Star game "counts" and is no longer a frivolous pageant? True, this exhibition has taken on more importance since baseball commissioner Bud Selig began awarding World Series homefield advantage to the team that represents the league that wins the All-Star Game. But taking the vote away from fans or otherwise changing the voting process in a radical way wouldn't do a damned thing if the goal is to turn the All-Star Game into a true competition. Too many players bail out of the game to rest or treat minor injuries. Certain pitchers are off-limits and can't be used in the game. Managers don't run the ASG the way they run normal games; dominant starting pitchers aren't removed after an inning or two . Top hitters are given more than at-bat or two. And when a manager is trying to win any of the 162 games on the regular-season schedule, he isn't checking a list of player names to try and get everyone into the game, just so they can receive a participation ribbon. The ASG game can never be a true competition, not in the traditional sense, and the voting process is the least of the factors. 

By and large, fans are doing an outstanding job so far in the voting. There are always things to quibble over; the same would apply if the players were voting on the starters, or the managers were choosing the starters, or sportswriters and broadcasters were picking the starters. Some of the overlooked players include Red 3B Todd Frazier, A's catcher Derek Norris, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. And yeah, I wish voters would pay closer attention to injuries. Orioles' catcher Matt Wieters is most likely going to win the All-Star vote, and he hasn't played since May 10 and will miss the rest of the season after undergoing elbow surgery. 

But even if fans get it "wrong" -- and I use that term loosely -- it depends on how you you view the criteria. I have never viewed All-Star voting along rigid lines -- that the vote should be based strictly on player performance for the first two-plus months of the season. I think career numbers and achievement should factor into this. I'll use an example close to home: Lucroy clearly has better offensive numbers than the Cardinals' Yadier Molina, but it's not as if Molina is having a terrible season. Molina's numbers are respectable, and he's still the game's best defensive catcher. Certain players -- Molina is surely one -- have built equity, and they're admired for their long list of achievements, and fans give them the proper respect. And that's the way it should be; if one of the game's best and most enduring talents is still a good player but has lesser numbers than another player at his position in less than a half-season, there's nothing wrong with voting him back in. You don't have to leapfrog others over him. Molina has earned that status. And once again ... it's not as if these starters are going to play all nine innings ... or even five innings. Lucroy absolutely should be an NL All-Star. And he will be. And Lucroy will play in the game. But I keep coming back to this: it's the fans' game, and they get to pick the starters, and I'm good with that. Something would be wrong if the public didn't vote in Derek Jeter as the American League shortstop. 

If the current voting means anything, you'll notice that fans don't care about the PED stuff ... which is something I have been saying for years. I'm not talking about all fans; obviously some are staunchly opposed to PED use and in favor of sanctions and Hall of Fame exclusions and the general shaming of players that get caught using banned drugs or supplements. But the majority of fans don't get worked up about it. PED rage is mostly the province of baseball writers who have appointed themselves as moral guardians ... and writers that also want to stand sentry at Cooperstown to block so-called PED players from the Hall of Fame; this still gives them a chance to cling to power and authority in a more diverse, intellectually expansive new-media world that's changed the paradigm in baseball journalism.  

Anyway, a few of the Biogenesis guys are doing well in the 2014 voting: the Orioles' Nelson Cruz is the leading vote-getter at DH in the American League; the Blue Jays' Melky Cabrera currently has enough votes to be a starter in the AL outfield; the Brewers' Ryan Braun (with nearly 1.4 million votes) is 5th in the National League outfield balloting. 

Thanks for reading ...

— Bernie 

Bernie Miklasz has been covering St. Louis sports since 1989. 

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