Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is unique in many ways. The fans, managers, and players all have a significant impact on roster selection for each league and the game itself is noteworthy because the winning league secures home field advantage in the upcoming World Series. And unlike many other professional sporting leagues’ All-Star festivities, baseball’s Midsummer Classic is actually enjoyable to watch (look, there’s no way anyone sat through the entire Pro Bowl).
A game with players handpicked by the fans and that has relevance to the remainder of the season is a rarity in sports. The MLB All-Star Game still means something.
But fans have been known to take advantage of the voting process.
Since the 1930s, baseball fans have been given the privilege of selecting the starting lineups for the MLB’s All-Star Game each summer. But even in its earliest stages, fans found a way to cheat the system. After a short break from the fan vote (just a rule change not due to fan actions), it returned in 1947, followed soon after by the first fan voting incident. In 1957, Cincinnati Reds fans fixed the voting, selecting seven of their own players to start in the All-Star Game. At that point, Commissioner Ford Frick was forced to step in and eliminate the fan vote. The hiatus lasted until 1970 and up until recently, fans have respected the process and voted fairly.
In 2012, San Francisco Giants fans took advantage of online voting rules to cast an exorbitant amount of votes for their favorite players. While the Giants were a good team, good enough to win the World Series that year, fans agreed that the NL All-Star team should consist of more than just Giants players. That year, Giants catcher Buster Posey set the record for total votes received by a National League player. Three Giants ended up making the starting lineup, but many other players on the team, not of all-star quality, were in contention for starting positions (see 2012 voting details).
Just last season, another fan voting controversy arose. This time, it was courtesy of Kansas City Royals fans. Prior to the final reveal of starting lineups, eight Royals players were in position to start for the American League in the All-Star Game. Four Royals, instead of eight, ended up starting for the AL because Major League Baseball stepped in and cancelled results, citing voter fraud.
Less than a month away from the 2016 All-Star Game, the MLB faces a similar problem, this time thanks to fans of my beloved Chicago Cubs. The fourth voting update for this year’s game was revealed a few days ago, showing Cubs fans are the most recent fan base to rig the voting system. Among the National League’s starting players, five of them are slated to be Cubs and the remaining spots still have at least one Cubs player within reach of a starting position. Just like in the situations with the Giants and Royals, the Cubs are a fantastic team and hold the best record in baseball, but fans don’t want to see one team dominate the all-star starting lineup.
With all this virtual stuffing of the ballot box, it’s time for things to change. There are quite a few routes that the MLB can take, with some appearing more favorable than others.
Option 1: Take Away the Fan Vote
The simplest way to remove the headaches caused by the fan vote is to completely get rid of it. This would be a very drastic measure and wildly unpopular among fans. Assuming the fans are stripped of the right to vote, managers and/or players would have the only say in roster selection.
This would mean rosters are likely to have more variety in terms of teams represented and it would serve as a quick fix to the fan voting issue. From a PR standpoint though, this choice would likely be devastating, turning many fans away from the game.
Option 2: Increase Voting Restrictions
This option allows the MLB some wiggle room. They could place limitations on the number of players from one team on a given ballot or decrease the amount of ballots one person can submit.
The limitation on players from a team per ballot would be extremely effective. Let’s say that the number is three. As a Cubs fan, I could still vote for Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist (the most deserving Cubs players in my opinion) while not completely disrupting the integrity of the vote by also picking Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, and Miguel Montero (great players, but not all-star-worthy this year). Would fans really ever need to vote four or five players from one team as legitimate starters?
A stricter limitation on the number votes per person seems like a logical fix, but the question of course would be the magic number. Is it three total votes per person? One a day? Any of those may work. For this scenario, a number would have to be put in place and experimented with a bit. A number too small and it may discourage fans from voting, making them feel like their vote doesn’t count. A number too large and it may not serve as a solution to the problem.
Option 3: Use Strategic Ballots
This is my personal preference and a great fix to the voting problem. Instead of starting fan voting so early, online ballots could become available at the beginning of June. Since a large enough portion of the season has been played at that point, the MLB could determine a reasonable list of players at each position to put on the ballot based on performance.
This seems ideal because the MLB can narrow down the options at each position to make sure that the player selected by the fans to start is actually worthy of a spot. There may be a few flaws in the plan, particularly if all-star caliber players missed time in the early stages of the season. Fans may be upset to see particular players left off the ballot.
That could be fixed by continuing to allow write-in votes and utilizing the final fan vote to decide the last few roster spots. If a player hasn’t played enough or hasn’t made the performance-based ballot, his team’s fans would still be able to write him in on the ballot. Also, those players could still be eligible to play if selected via the final fan vote.
It will be interesting to see what steps Major League Baseball takes, especially if all five of the Cubs players currently in the lead are chosen as starters. Perhaps the MLB will cancel votes again. No matter the outcome, fans will be disgruntled with this year’s voting. Some fans will be upset if votes are cancelled and some upset if they aren’t. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation. But if you’re reading this, MLB executives, I just gave you guys some options.
Vote for who you want to watch play in this year’s MLB All-Star Game.