With Dwight Howard taking all of the intrigue out of the NBA’s free agency period by quickly agreeing to head to Houston, the dog days of summer have officially arrived.
The month of July is about as bad as it gets in the world of sports, especially when your favorite baseball team is seven and a half games out of first place in the division while probably outperforming expectations. About the only thing that could save this time of year is the MLB All-Star Game, but that too is a disappointment.
The All-Star Game can’t decide if it wants to be a game that matters or the People’s Choice Awards, and that makes for a tricky balancing act.
Baseball’s all-star game should be better than its counterparts in the other three major professional sports because it is the least physical game by far; it’s not hard to convince players to try their hardest — or close to their hardest — in a game with little meaning to all but a few teams.
And All-Star appearances are more than just an honor for those selected. In many cases they can be bargaining chips in contract negotiations and potentially even tickets into the Hall of Fame when their careers are over.
But despite all of this meaning and potential, the All-Star Game devolved into a popularity contest where the teams with the most fans — or most technologically sound and fervent fans — get their players into the game while deserving players from smaller markets are left out. I’ve also heard from sources in the business that some teams have their interns fill out All-Star ballots for days on end to get their players into the game.
The best example of the mistakes from this year’s fan voting comes from the Baltimore Orioles. Obviously, Orioles fans are excited about their team. (And with good reason: The Orioles are eight games over .500 and have a chance to win the AL East.)
And one of the biggest reasons for this rise is first baseman Chris Davis, who leads the MLB with 33 homers as of July 10. Davis has had a remarkable first half and absolutely deserves to start at first base; the fans got it right.
But in their rush to reward Davis, Orioles fans didn’t forget to vote for their other players, and that put shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Adam Jones in the starting lineup as well.
Hardy has had a fine year, but does a 94 on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS) scream All-Star to you? I didn’t think so. And Jones is hitting .290 with 16 homers, which are good numbers, but with only 10 walks his OPS is below .800 and his résumé tops only Hardy’s for All-Star worthiness among American League All-Star starters.
It’s hard to blame Orioles fans for this, however. The more glaring fault with the system comes in the final round of the selection process, when the players and coaches in the MLB and the managers of each squad get to pick the last few players for the teams.
Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers is the manager of the American League squad. Only one member of the first-place Tigers was voted as an All-Star starter: third baseman Miguel Cabrera. That weak showing in the fan voting isn’t too rare, as the first-place Oakland Athletics didn’t have a single player voted to the squad by the fans. But what happened next seems a little unfair.
The Tigers had five additional players selected to the roster while the Athletics only had one. I’m sure Leyland will argue that he’s just trying to pick the best players so that he can win the game, but that just wouldn’t be true.
Take outfielder Torii Hunter, who was one of the five Tigers added to the roster. Hunter has had a great career, but is having a fairly average 2013 season. In the outfield, you should see better numbers than a .777 OPS on the All-Star roster.
So what’s the remedy for this problem? Apparently the fan vote, while imperfect, may not be the most broken part of the system. The next step of the process has worse results, as a single, biased person — the manager — has too much say and too much at stake. Finding a better way to fill the last slots on the team would make for a much fairer, and just as enjoyable All-Star Game.
But so would moving the game out of Queens, New York.
Sam Fisher is just bitter because none of his beloved Phillies were voted in as starters. Brag to him about how many players from your favorite team got voted in instead at safisher ‘at’ Stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.