Democracy for the Famous: A Critique of Baseball’s All-Star Selection Process

Keith Thompson,

July 1, 1998

As the forces of the baseball world converge on Coors Field to celebrate another All Star gala, a few things from sports sometimes enigmatic operations once again rises to the fore. High on the agenda is the selection process for some of these All Stars. Who gets selected and who gets snubbed (or overlooked for the politically correct among us) becomes the source of considerable discussions and debates.

In are the following players (all statistics through June 30 of the 1998 season):

Starters                                             BA     HR   RBI
C   Ivan Rodriguez, Texas                .354    10    43
1B  Jim Thome, Cleveland                .332    21    68
2B  Roberto Alomar, Baltimore         .300     8    32
SS  Alex Rodriguez, Seattle              .310    27    66
3B  Cal Ripken, Baltimore                 .261     7    35
OF  Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle               .281    33    72
OF  Juan Gonzalez, Texas                .296    24    96
OF  Kenny Lofton, Cleveland            .280     7    41

Pitchers                                            W-L  ERA   SV
RHP Rolando Arrojo, Tampa Bay     10-4  3.02    0
RHP Roger Clemens, Toronto           9-6  3.71     0
RHP Bartolo Colon, Cleveland          8-4  2.51     0
RHP Tom Gordon, Boston                 4-2  2.68   24
RHP Pedro Martinez, Boston          10-2  3.02     0
RHP Troy Percival, Anaheim             1-2  2.80   25
RHP Brad Radke, Minnesota            8-6  2.83     0
RHP Aaron Sele, Texas                  11-5  3.26     0
LHP David Wells, NY Yankees        10-2  3.92     0
RHP John Wetteland, Texas            2-0  1.50    22

Reserves                                      BA   HR   RBI
C   Sandy Alomar, Cleveland        .270   5    30
1B  Mo Vaughn, Boston                .327  21    56
2B  Ray Durham, Chicago             .288   7    27
2B  Damion Easley, Detroit           .291  19   60
SS  Derek Jeter, NY Yankees        .310   9    41
SS  Omar Vizquel, Cleveland        .300   0    28
3B  Scott Brosius, NY Yankees      .308   8    51
3B  Dean Palmer, Kansas City      .288  16   45
OF  Darin Erstad, Anaheim           .316  17    57
OF  Ben Grieve, Oakland              .318  12    51
OF  Paul O'Neill, NY Yankees        .324  10    59
OF  Bernie Williams, NY Yankees  .353  10    44

Starters                                   BA     HR   RBI
C   Mike Piazza, NY Mets         .308    13    45
1B  Mark McGwire, St. Louis      .319    37    87
2B  Craig Biggio, Houston        .330    11    47
SS  Walt Weiss, Atlanta          .323     0    16
3B  Chipper Jones, Atlanta       .300    18    65
OF  Barry Bonds, San Francisco   .286    17    58
OF  Tony Gwynn, San Diego        .333     7    44
OF  Larry Walker, Colorado       .336     9    33

Pitchers                                            W-L    ERA   SV
RHP Andy Ashby, San Diego         10-5  2.57    0
RHP Kevin Brown, San Diego         9-3  2.77    0
LHP Tom Glavine, Atlanta          11-3  2.71    0
RHP Trevor Hoffman, San Diego      3-0  1.96   24
RHP Greg Maddux, Atlanta          11-2  1.64    0
RHP Robb Nen, San Francisco        5-1  1.05   23
RHP Rick Reed, NY Mets             9-5  2.71    0
RHP Curt Schilling, Philadelphia   7-8  3.07    0
RHP Jeff Shaw, Cincinnati          1-4  1.89   22
RHP Ugueth Urbina, Montreal        4-2  1.41   20

Reserves                                      BA    HR   RBI
C   Jason Kendall, Pittsburgh      .335    5    38
C   Javy Lopez, Atlanta            .309   19    58
1B  Andres Galarraga, Atlanta      .310   27    70
2B  Fernando Vina, Milwaukee       .299    4    19
3B  Vinny Castilla, Colorado       .301   23    72
SS  Edgar Renteria, Florida        .306    1    21
OF  Moises Alou, Houston           .320   18    67
OF  Dante Bichette, Colorado       .336   11    67
OF  Gary Sheffield, Los Angeles    .303   13    56
OF  Sammy Sosa, Chicago            .327   33    79
OF  Greg Vaughn, San Diego         .296   27    68
OF  Devon White, Arizona           .288   12    44

While the consensus players many felt were snubbed include:
Position players
Derek Bell, Houston
Jose Canseco, Toronto
Nomar Garciaparra, Boston
Mark Grace, Chicago
Brian Jordan, St. Louis
Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore
Scott Rolen, Philadelphia

and Pitchers
David Cone, New York
Chuck Finley, Anaheim
Rick Helling, Texas
Hideki Irabu, New York
Randy Myers, Toronto
Mariano Rivera, New York
Todd Stottlemyre, St. Louis
Kerry Wood, Chicago

No one is saying the likes of Ray Durham of the White Sox, Fernando Vina of the Brewers, or Devon White of the Diamondbacks, among others, are not good players or All-Stars in their own rights. But can we really justify their inclusion at the expense of the others who were left out. Based on sheer numbers for the season thus far we would be hard pressed to.

The age-old debate of who deserves an All-Star selection versus who should be left out has therefore raised its ugly head once again. Let’s analyze for example the way the starters are determined for what is quite possibly the most exciting time of baseball’s regular season. Fans vote in the starters. It is understood that the fans do have a thorough appreciation of the game but should the average fans be voting in the starters and the supposedly more knowledgeable and baseball savvy World Series managers and League Commissioners only select the reserves and pitchers.

Few, if any, can argue with the democratic coronation of the likes of Chipper Jones of Atlanta, Jim Thome of Cleveland, Mark McGwire of St. Louis, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriquez of Seattle, and Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriquez of Texas to the
roar of the opening inning crowd and the electrifying stare of the rest of the country.

But, is this the best All-Star team that should be starting? Let’s review the facts. Consider Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. He currently (as of July 1st) leads the National League in Total Bases, is 2nd in Home Runs (1st among outfielders), 2nd in Runs Batted In (1st among outfielders), 2nd in Slugging percentage (1st among outfielders), 4th in Runs Scored (1st among outfielders), 6th in Hits (3rd among outfielders), and 9th in Batting Average (4th among outfielders). Yet for all those accolades Sosa finished just 6th in the All-Star voting among outfielders. Starting in his place for the NL team are Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, and Larry Walker whose combined Home Run total do not exceed his. In fact, Sosa leads all three in Home Runs and RBIs and is just batting 9 points behind Walker and 6 behind Gwynn while leading Bonds by 41 points. Sosa’s problem is very simple. Gwynn is an 8-time Batting Champion, Walker is the reigning MVP, and Bonds is just Bonds. Democracy for the famous.

A lot of players have played their entire careers for the honor of being acknowledged as greats among their peers. And that is what the All-Star game allows them. The All-Star game is not to celebrate the accomplishments of every team, instead it is to reward the performances of individual players. The notion of having at least one player from every team represented at the game is therefore both ludicrous and unmeritocratic. Maybe it’s time to reverse the manner of selection of the All-Stars. Managers and Coaches, who are closer to the game on a daily basis, should probably be allowed to select the starters. Their respective votes could be tabulated and selections given to the players with the highest number of votes at their respective positions. In the event of a tie the league commissioners could cast the deciding vote. The fan balloting, on the other hand, could determine the reserves that should also play since more of these can be selected and these are the players the fans want to see.

Is this an undemocratic process? Well consider the U.S. electoral system. It is the Electoral College and not the voting populace who selects the president (though the Electoral College’s votes tend to reflect the general populace). Nevertheless the U.S. system is the most democratic in the world. Managers and coaches could therefore still vote for the All-Star starters and preserve the democratic integrity of the system. If the current system is not changed we could therefore end up with players selected for their fame and past performances, and not for what they have done lately.

So, does democracy really work in sports? Consider this. Over the last three years fans have voted in 50 position players to start in the All-Star game. Eight of these players have hailed from the Orioles, five from the Astros and Mariners, and four each from the Indians, Padres and Rangers (60% of the total). In addition, six of
these players have been voted to start in all three games __ Alomar, Biggio, Bonds, Piazza, Ripken and Ivan Rodriquez.

I guess democracy does work in sports…if you play for a well-recognized team, in one of America’s larger markets, and your name is associated with past episodes of brilliance. Democracy for the famous.

1998 PER Sports, Inc.

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