After the conclusion of every Major League Baseball Game, the standings are updated in division and wild card races. Ever week, from now until July 14, 2009, they will also be updating fans on the current standings of their favorite players in All-Star Game voting.
Bud Selig, along with the rest of his clan on Park Avenue, decide years back that the fan should have a bigger role in the Mid-Summer Classic. By the power invested in him, the commissioner declared from on high that fans will vote for the starting defensive players for both the All-Star squads. Selig later amended the game even further, decreeing that the division that wins the game will also have home field advantage for the Fall Classic.
The commissioner gets more desperate for ways to increase the dollars and cents the league can suck out of the game each year.
This year, however, the faults in the system he has created are more evident than ever.
As of today's press release, Manny Ramirez, he of 50 game suspension fame, ranks fifth among National League Outfielders, with 838,353 fan votes. Manny, though, has not played in a game for more than a month, and will not until just 11 days before the ASG.
His manager, Joe Torre, has said publicly that he feels that if voted in, his player should politely decline. Others feel differently, while many feel the same. Fortunately, the player in fourth place, Alfonso Soriano, is trotting out there every day and has a 250,000 lead, approximately.
Left field is not the only source of contention for the National League Squad. As ballots were created before the season began, players who have been plagues by injuries, moved around, or demoted are featured on the pieces of paper handed out at every stadium.
Washington Nationals' player Lasting Milledge is grateful. Milledge has received plenty of publicity from the league's eagerness, as a Web site was put up in his honor to urge fans to "Vote Milledge '09." The mark he is making on balloting totals is not as evident as Manny's, but aside from Ryan Zimmerman, no Nationals' should be.
The problem is not limited to the regions furthest from home plate. In yet another twist, the leader for starting N.L. shortstop has changed for a third week, this time with struggling Jimmy Rollins, who rides the pine in many fantasy baseball leagues right now, taking the lead. Last week it was Hanley Ramirez; the week before, J.J. Hardy.
While many die-hard Milwaukee Brewer fans (read: probably not the Happy Youngster) were out in droves at the beginning of balloting, they have cooled down in recent weeks. Hanley Ramirez, however, is deserving of the starting post. He is currently trailing Jimmy by 64,640 votes in his quest to become the first two-time starter for the Florida Marlins.
How big of a gap separates these two players in performance this year?
Suffice it to say, Manny deserves an All-Star start more than the Phillies short stop. Hanley, a consensus No. 1 fantasy pick on ESPN, has put up the best numbers from an NL short stop, if not the entire league. He is batting .332, with eight stolen bases and eight dingers thus far. He compliments that with 36 runs and 26 RBIs. He's also missed time with injury.
If you were to look where Yahoo! Sports would rank Rollins in terms of SS performance thus far this year, you would find him more than halfway down the first page of 25, at No. 16.
Jimmy Rollins, usually deserving of the spot, has hit .222 this year. He only has three round-trippers, and has hit 15 other runners in. His stolen bases exceed Hanley's by two, and his runs trail him by two, thank you very much Raul Ibanez (leading OF vote-getter) and Ryan Howard.
Aside from Ramirez, the same list designates seven starting short stops putting up better offensive numbers than J.R.
In a day and age where the All Star Game has the potential to affect who wins the championship, and whose fans get to see more games in person, should not the leagues trot the most deserving players out there?
If you ask the commissioner's office, the answer may be no.
Bigger names, like Jimmy Rollins, draw more attention to the game, much like controversy in the ballots draws attention to them. More attention in the game translates to more dollars for Fox and MLB.
And let us not forget, the teams that often source the undeserving players are often the most popular, large market teams. Their fans buy more apparel, their teams spend more money, and they are more likely to get to the big dance in October. Do not for one second think Bud Selig would rather see a Reds-A's series than an Angels-Mets duel.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, Mr. Selig, whether Manny or Lastings last to the final ballot, or Hanley starts, it is evident this year more than ever the system is broke, so get to fixin'.
I know that in an economic downtown you are desperate for all the cash you can get, as evident by the fact you were one of few commissioners not to take one for the team on pay or benefits over the last year, but fans are equally desperate for enjoyable, affordable, quality entertainment. Has the game become all about your bankroll, or do the fans and the players still matter?
By the way, the Reds and the A's players are desperate for votes, too.