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July 2001


by Fine Diner

Once again the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is upon us, and once again, heads are being scratched everywhere in bewilderment. In what seems a never-ending cycle, truly inexplicable mass votes have left deserving players off in lieu of players being ushered in via either
sympathy votes or ballot box stuffing. Yes, it appears that ballot box stuffing has returned to major league baseball, although it makes the Cleveland onslaught of two years ago pale in comparison. Now it has gone global, to a point where it could be irreversible.

What I refer to is the concentration of votes cast in favor of the Seattle Mariners, who got off to the best start in baseball history over the first two months of the season. They did this despite losing their top player (Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez) each of the past three years, a commendable achievement for Lou Piniella's charges. But as admirable as their season has been thus far, the Mariners have not had the best player per position this year, no matter how their fans feel. However the Mariners will have four starters, thanks in great part to online voting, which has really taken off this summer.

For the record, these were the American League leading vote getters online:
1B - John Olerud (Mariners)
2B - Brett Boone (Mariners)
3B - David Bell (Mariners)
SS - ARod, (Rangers)
C - Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers)
DH - Edgar Martinez (Mariners)
OF - Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners), Manny Ramirez (Red Sox) and Juan Gonzalez (Indians)

This is the same way the total vote went except for Baltimore's retiring Cal Ripken squeaking by Bell, 1,108,383 to 1,063,772. Olerud's total of 674,253 online votes beat those of reigning MVP Jason Giambi and Carlos Delgado combined (618,224), and Edgar Martinez nearly quadrupled those of New York's David Justice, his nearest competitor. Incredulously Seattle catcher Dan Wilson, who has been splitting the season with Tom Lampkin, was second online and in total voting only to Rodriguez, ahead of the much-deserving Jorge Posada of New York. While Boston's Manny Ramirez, the AL's home run leader, garnered 50 percent of his total votes online, it paled in comparison to the top three online recipients overall (Suzuki, Martinez and Boone), each of whom netted over a million votes online alone. Obviously, the Internet has been a "Boone" to Seattle, which also happens to be hosting the 50th game this year.

Many demand that the vote be taken from the fans, something that had been done in 1958 after Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot boxes in 1956, bidding to make eight of theirs starters. That would have been a record, even beating the dynastic Yankees, if not for Commissioner Ford Frick knocking the stuffing out of the selections of Wally Post and Gus Bell. The vote stayed with the players until 1969. There have been no official calls to unstuff the ballot boxes this year, or to revamp voting, but it has to be scrutinized if everyone has a fair chance at getting in.

There are two major problems with online voting, and both reared their heads this summer - the need for giving owners of each email address up to 20 opportunities to cast votes and the paucity of high tech opportunity in nations where the better foreign players come from. At least voters at the games (one assumes they have been watching and thus have a better idea of who is most deserving of selection) may be monitored to an extent to inhibit flagrant stuffing, but that is lacking online. Major League Baseball and Radio Shack, sponsoring the online action, require the activation of PC cookies in order to keep addresses from going over the absurd 20-vote limit. But that does not hinder people from either using addresses belonging to others, or using the multiple addresses often available from providers.

The other problem, lack of opportunity, hits fans more globally, since most Americans now have online access. But that also benefited Seattle fans. As it turns out, not just Americans have been taking great advantage of online voting. The Japanese have been using their access to technology to ensure that Suzuki makes the All-Star team. They also used paper ballots for the first time ever in Japan. Of course if any rookie more deserving than Suzuki, the league's leader in batting and hits, is found that would be a surprise, and the votes poured in from across the nation for him accordingly. Suzuki, a bat control master with outstanding speed was a lock anyway, but the zealous overseas votes forced him past even Ramirez and Barry Bonds in the balloting, netting a record 3,373,035 votes for a rookie. In contrast Bonds, still on pace to break Mark McGwyre's home run record, only received 2,140,315 votes. Suzuki is by far not the only foreigner in the Major Leagues, but online voting has benefited him more than others. Coming from a populous high tech nation with access to the Internet assures his selection for years to come, even if he nose-dives at the plate like former all-star Tim Salmon of the Angels did this year.

An analysis of the expanded American League rosters at the beginning of the season revealed 12 other nations represented, not counting Puerto Rico or mid-season call-ups. The majority of these are from two nations - the Dominican Republic (59 players) and Venezuela (25). No other nation was represented by more than 10. A number of these are all-star caliber, but they may be left in the dust if online trends continue. According to Major League baseball it will. While only 800,000 votes were cast online in 2000, by June 28 the number had jumped to over 2 million, and they were still counting. On June 28 alone 128,000 ballots were cast, a new one-day record. Now we've found another way to hamper small-market clubs. Anyway, that aside here are this year's Fine Diner picks, and I only voted once:

1B - Jason Giambi, Oakland (AL) Todd Helton, Colorado (NL)
2B - Bret Boone, Seattle (AL) Jeff Kent, San Fran (NL)
3B - Scott Brosius, NY (AL) Chipper Jones, Atlanta (NL)
SS - Alex Rodriguez, Texas (AL) Ricky Gutierez, Cubs (NL)
C - Ivan Rodriguez, Texas (AL) Jason Kendall, Pitts. (NL)
DH - Manny Ramirez, Bosox (AL)
OF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle (AL) Bernie Williams, NY (AL) Juan Gonzales, Cleve. (AL) Barry Bonds, San Fran (NL) Larry Walker, Colorado (NL) Moises Alou, Houston (NL)

The biggest shame this year is .247-hitting Bell duking it out with .220-hitting Ripken for third when the battle should be between Anaheim's Troy Glaus and New York's Scott Brosius. Brosius and Posada carried the Yanks earlier this year. Likewise, Giambi stayed consistent while the A's floundered, but his was the toughest choice in lieu of Delgado and the recent surge of Cleveland's Jim Thome. Pound for pound, Kendall is the best catcher in the National League and I feel his defense outweighs Mike Piazza's homers. I had to vote for Ramirez at DH because he simply hadn't been in the field for the first two months, but still outdid Martinez. Finally, Williams has been outstanding since returning full-time, a key reason the Red Sox haven't left them behind.