When I was a kid, I loved filling out the All-Star ballot. When Alvin Davis was a rookie in 1984 and tearing up the league, my friends and I procured huge stacks of ballots and spent the entire game writing in his name (he wasn't on the ballot). We knew he had no shot of earning the starting bid, but we wanted to show our support for our guy.
So it's hard to fault Texas Rangers fans for their overzealousness in stuffing the All-Star voting box this year. Hey, the enthusiasm is coming from a good place. Plus, it's just nice to see sports fans in Dallas caring about something besides football. But here's the thing: Davis deserved to start the All-Star Game that year. He hit .287/.397/.536 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs in the first half, monster numbers back then. The elected starter was Rod Carew, who hit .292 with nine extra-base hits. I mean, I know it was Rod Carew, but come on. And my friends and I certainly weren't stuffing the box for Bob Kearney or Barry Bonnell.
Rangers fans, in their eagerness, have gone hog wild in voting for their guys, however. Some of them certainly do deserve to start -- Josh Hamilton, of course, and Adrian Beltre is having a fine season at third base. You can certainly make a case for Elvis Andrus deserving to start over Derek Jeter, who leads the voting.
But ... Ian Kinsler is neck and neck with Robinson Cano for the starting second baseman, Cano leading by just 96,000 votes with one week left in the voting. Kinsler is a fine player, but Cano is hitting .302/.369/.572 compared to Kinsler's .267/.331/.428. And Kinsler is hitting just .249 on the road with a .308 on-base percentage. Mike Napoli is leading the catching vote over Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters. Napoli did have a career year in 2011 and he's still having a fine season, but Mauer is hitting .323 with a .419 OBP. Wieters has basically matched Napoli's offensive numbers and provides much better defense. Most egregiously, Nelson Cruz is fourth in the outfield voting, just behind Jose Bautista for a starting spot. Cruz ranks 21st among AL outfielders in wOBA, but he may end up starting.
And then there's Mitch Moreland, fourth in the balloting at first base. OK, he's not going to pass Prince Fielder and Paul Konerko for the starting job, but he has more votes than Albert Pujols! This is Mitch Moreland we're talking about here!
Stuffing the ballot box is a long-standing tradition, of course. Back in 1957, Cincinnati Reds fans voted in seven Reds as starters. The Cincinnati Enquirer had printed up pre-marked ballots and distributed them with the Sunday paper, making it easy for Reds fans to send in their ballots. An investigation reportedly revealed half the ballots that year came from Cincinnati. Commissioner Ford Frick was so outraged he appointed Willie Mays and Hank Aaron starters for the National League, replacing Reds outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post. Fans were stripped of the vote and didn't vote for starters again until 1970, when baseball realized it was missing out on a great marketing opportunity.
Since most fans now vote via computer -- up to 25 times! -- it's even easier for fans to "stuff" the ballot box. Back in the day, you at least had to work hard to do it.
I'm being a little harsh here. For the most part, the fans do end up doing a good job. There isn't anything atrocious about the current vote leaders in either league. Fans did a terrific job last year, voting in guys like Alex Avila and Asdrubal Cabrera who weren't big names. This isn't like the year A's fans voted in Terry Steinbach when he was hitting .219 with 19 RBIs at the break. Or the year Darryl Strawberry started even though he was hitting .229 with 19 RBIs. At least Michael Young (.269/.296/.348, three home runs) is unlikely to catch David Ortiz in the designated hitter spot. I know Rangers fans love Young, but he's been terrible this season.
The problem, of course, is MLB wants the All-Star Game to be all things: It wants it to be a big event that can bring in millions in marketing revenue (last year, there were more than 32.5 million votes cast), but it also wants the game to count. Which it does; as we all know, home-field advantage for the World Series goes to the winning league.
If any group of fans should realize the potential importance of that, it should be Rangers fans. Or have they forgotten the Cardinals winning Games 6 and 7 of the World Series on their home turf? So, vote away, Rangers fans. Just be careful what the end result may lead to.
Then again, who knows ... the year Steinbach started? He hit a home run and a sac fly in the American League's 2-1 victory to win MVP honors.