Voters: Free your mind

There was brief, but only brief, outrage at the news that Nomar Garciaparra was leading the All-Star voting among American League shortstops without having met the burden of actually playing a game.

By now, after all, we all know that it isn't about earning a place on the team, but about earning a place in the voters' heads. If baseball marketed itself better to nonagenarians, the leader among National League second basemen would be Rogers Hornsby.

The real problem, though, isn't the fans getting what they want, but the categories into which they must vote. Positions ... feh. What could be more outdated?

No, the All-Star overhaul that's needed is not with the voting but with the definitions. Anyone can identify an outfielder and come up with Barry Bonds' name, but wouldn't it be more in keeping with the game as it's currently played that there be a spot for the swinging Bonds and the walking Bonds? I mean, when you have nearly twice as many walks (92) as hits (52), what are you famous for, anyway?

Or for that matter, Cincinnati's Adam Dunn, whose personal strikeout rate is sufficiently Promethean that he and Bonds could end up in a heroic race to see who can not hit the ball more often.

See what we're getting at here? Thinking outside the ballot ... smashing the tyranny of the chad ... getting voters' minds off the idea that a guy who hadn't participated in even one inning until this week is still more worthier than guys who had the temerity to have actually played.

Who doesn't like to see a late-inning comeback? Nobody. That's why a special place for the Indians' entire bullpen is clearly indicated -- your Betancourts, your Riskes, your Jose Jimenezes yearning to hold a lead. Lord a'mighty, it's a natural.

Or how about a full-blown managers' tag-team match, with Pittsburgh's Lloyd McClendon as one of the featured performers? Up until now, the most attention a manager got was when Bob Brenly and Joe Torre ran out of pitchers in 2002 and left Bud Selig holding the flaming bag of ... well, you know. McClendon's performance with Tony La Russa earlier this month, though, opened up several possibilities, including a staged debate between Montreal's Frank Robinson and Mike Fichter, or anyone and Joe West.

And you can make the categories as esoteric as you like. Best Japanese Reliever You Never Heard Of Before This Year, with Shingo Takatsu and Akinori Otsuka (extra points for knowing their teams off the top of your head) ... Best Luis Lopez (Montreal or Baltimore), or Best Alex Gonzalez (Chicago or Florida) ... or Make A Yankee Rotation, with the featured names being Tanyon Sturtze, Alex Graman, Donovan Osborne, Jorge DePaula and, just for giggles, Jose Contreras.

But maybe you're just too tradition-bound to stray from the enslavement of vote-by-position. So how about Disabled All-Star teams? Here, Garciaparra is now penalized for playing rather than rewarded for not playing, and the rest of the list would make for its own top-quality entertainment, if limping is your party favor.

The American League would have a quite representative club, as long as you don't mind there being four third basemen (Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez, Bill Mueller and Damian Rolls) and no shortstops. The National League, on the other hand, would have four second basemen and more starting pitching than the Yankees could buy (Andy Pettitte, Kerry Wood, Josh Beckett, Randy Wolf, Jake Peavy, Vicente Padilla, Paul Byrd, and that's just the half of it).

And since baseball in the new millennium is all about being interactive, we can always get fans like the hopelessly infamous Matt Starr to engage in a small child slalom for foul balls, broken bats and discarded batting gloves in a Paraphernalia Demolition Derby. To limit liability, the small children would be inflatable rather than actual humans, and if you hit them too hard, they would explode, covering the clumsy adult in non-toxic paint for easy scoring.

Or, if you're in a cranky mood, toxic paint. We're very flexible that way.

In the meantime, Nomar is having an All-Star year through 20-some-odd at-bats, if that helps at all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com