By Joe Barbito, news staff
Exhibition games are typically reserved for pre-season schedules, charity events and the beloved all-star games held by professional leagues in every sport. On Tuesday, Major League Baseball (MLB) held its 87th All-Star Game (ASG) in San Diego, Calif., where the American League defeated the National League by a score of 4-2. What separates the MLB ASG from other exhibition games is its postseason significance. In every other major sport, all-star games have no bearing on the playoffs: The Super Bowl is held in a specially selected stadium, the home court advantage in the NBA Final is granted to the team with the better regular season record and home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals is determined by regular season points. But in baseball, whichever league wins the ASG earns home field advantage in the World Series.
That would be fine if the manager, coaching staff and league offices were able to decide the rosters and starting lineups on their own. Instead, MLB has allowed fans to vote on who they think should be the starter at each position except for pitcher. Because voting is open to anyone with an MLB.com account, voters do not necessarily keep up with all 30 teams. It is no secret that most people go out and stuff the ballot box for their favorite team’s starting roster.
Did I mention you can vote multiple times a day, every day, once voting opens in April?
This creates a horribly lopsided voting advantage for teams in major media markets. Chicago, New York, Boston and other big markets are able to get fan favorites on the starting lineup even if they are not the best at a given position. This year, the entire National League infield were Chicago Cubs. This included 2015 Rookie of the Year third baseman Kris Bryant, who is an early candidate for Most Valuable Player, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting .299/.416/.591 with 21 home runs and 63 RBIs, obviously good choices.
However, this also included first-time All-Star Addison Russell and veteran second baseman Ben Zobrist. Russell, one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, was hitting a paltry .237 going into the break. Despite his 11 home runs, multiple shortstops should have made the cut in front of him, most notably Corey Seager and Brandon Crawford. Seager, who was named to the roster as a reserve, did appear in the Mid-Summer Classic.
Ben Zobrist ended up starting second over the scorching hot Daniel Murphy who, fresh off his historic post-season run with the Mets, is hitting a whopping .348 with 17 homeruns. Murphy strikes out less than Zobrist, has more power and has become a newfound defensive infielder. Yet, he rode the pine for the first few innings.
The American League snubs were not quite as extreme, with a wider mix of teams being represented in the starting roster. Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer, fresh off his 2015 World Series victory, ended up starting for the AL. His .299 average is impressive, but 13 home runs as a first baseman are mediocre when considering Chris Davis, Carlos Santana and Miguel Cabrera all had more. The case could also be made that Josh Donaldson, reigning AL MVP, should have started at third over Manny Machado. The list of “could have beens” goes on and on as you look at positions and internal matchups based on which city each candidate is from, but the point remains: If you want to be an All-Star in the modern baseball era, you had better play for a big market team.
Between the Giants, Nationals, Orioles, Indians and Rangers, who all lead their respective divisions, there were a total of three starters. While being on a first place team does not make you a better player, it is alarming that these teams, many of whom play in small markets, were passed over because of voting imbalances. There is a problem in team selection when San Francisco, which owns the best record in baseball, struggles to field multiple All-Stars. Same goes for Texas, the best American League team by record. The two teams with the best odds to be affected by the All-Star Game had almost no impact in it.
Major League Baseball needs to remove the fan vote to determine All-Star starters, or at least go back to the old school method where people had to buy a ticket to a game and fill out a ballot at the ballpark. At the very least, this will encourage fans to attend baseball games in person and prevent fans in major markets from creating multiple email accounts to flood the digital polling boxes with requests for their favorite players in the game.
Game 7 of the World Series should not have its home field advantage decided by what should be a meaningless interleague game, but if MLB has not already realized this, it will take a new commissioner for there to be a serious change. In the meantime, there needs to be a change to the voting methods to help deserving athletes have their moment of glory and their name recorded in the history of the Mid-Summer Classic.