If the Major League Baseball All-Star Game had a place in American History curricula, 11-year-old me would be a figure taught alongside Boss Tweed. The democratic nature of electing the Midsummer Classic’s starting lineups was intoxicating to the dorky kid who watched coverage of the 2000 Florida recount every day after school. I was a conniving little bastard and when it came to finding ways to stuff the ballot box, I took my lessons less from old Joe and Jane Stadium Usher, who’d hand out ballots at the ballpark than I did from Chicago’s Daley clan.
No strategy was beneath me. Paying friends a few quarters to punch out the bags of ballots I’d bring home from a trip to Candlestick? Check. Fabricating email addresses to run up totals in the early days of online balloting? Yep. I was a foolhardy kid who thought that my dirty tactics made a difference in who’d trot out to represent their league each summer, and I took that shit seriously. It probably would’ve been good practice for a career in politics.
Over the years, the dynamics of voting in players for the ASG have changed. Over the years, online ballots have eclipsed voting at the ballpark as the preferred way to select the game’s starters. Teams now solicit fans to pull out their smartphones, click an app a few times, and presto, send the hometown nine’s best to the game. The speed of voting online has made it more effective than even the most mischievous fan could manage via the old-fashioned, Bush v. Gore-inducing, punch card manner.
With the change in ease has also come a change in quality. While baseball fans have generally opted for star power over on-field results over the years, at least there is the exhibition quality of the game that makes it OK to run out an elderly Cal Ripken Jr. at the 2001 game in Seattle or a hobbled Ken Griffey Jr. for the chance to see The Kid turn his hat backwards, win another Home Run Derby and just generally entertain the hell out of us. The change that has come recently is the same one that allows Peyton Hillis to represent the NFL on the cover of Madden 12 or Sriracha to lose out on becoming the new permanent Lays flavor.
Ease of access increases the general idiocy of the voting pool. While the wisdom of crowds does ensure that something like the 4th Place 1957 Reds landing seven of the eight fan-voted starters on the National League squad won’t happen again (at least it meant America was able to watch a 21-year-old Frank Robinson do his thing), it also means that Hipster Milo from sales can grab his iPhone when prompted at AT&T Park and vote for below average players the Giants tell him to, or that Wanda in reception can glance up at her Derek Jeter bobblehead from 2001 and vote him into the game while she’s supposed to be doing whatever Wanda in reception does (probably nothing).
The goals of the All-Star Game are to showcase the game’s best talents and to be entertaining as Hell. Generally, those two things are one in the same, though it leaves room for some nuance and interpretation. That will be our goal over the next week: to take the best players and plug them into lineups that will make for the most entertaining couple hours of exhibition baseball we can get.
Like American politics, America’s pastime has been taken out of the smoke-filled backrooms and democratized. This has done wonders for an advanced understanding of the game, and it should be celebrated. When it comes to the All-Star Game, however, let’s try and play a little dirty politics for the sake of our own entertainment. Stuff the ballot box. Cheat. Do whatever to vote for the players we discuss over the next week. If we fail, Milo and Wanda will manage to cheat you out of the game you deserve.