MLB All-Star ballots released
Terry Steinbach knows from experience that there’s no perfect way to pick baseball’s All-Star teams.
The selection process has changed numerous times and spurred plenty of debate since 1933, when the Chicago Tribune asked fans to vote on the starters for the first All-Star Game. Now, more than 30 million ballots are cast each year, with about 80 percent of those submitted online.
Over the years, there have been notable examples of ballot stuffing, including the effort that helped make Steinbach the American League’s starting catcher in 1988, despite a .217 first-half batting average. Reports surfaced that summer of an Oakland fan designing a board of nails to punch bundles of ballots with votes for Steinbach and other Athletics.
“Should I have been there? Probably not, if you look at the numbers,” said Steinbach, now the Twins bench coach. “But I wasn’t going to turn it down, and I wasn’t going to let it bother me.”
The New Ulm native and former Minnesota Gophers standout became an unlikely All-Star MVP when he homered off Dwight Gooden and added a sacrifice fly, leading the AL to a 2-1 victory.
Voting follies The most notable ballot-stuffing incident came in 1957, when Reds fans managed to get seven of their players voted into the starting lineup. The Cincinnati Enquirer had printed pre-marked ballots, and readers submitted them to the league office en masse.
Commissioner Ford Frick, who bristled after five Reds starters were elected thanks to a similar effort one year earlier, took action in 1957. He replaced Cincinnati’s Wally Post and Gus Bell in the National League lineup with two players named Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Frick also took the vote away from the fans. They didn’t get it back until 1970, but they’ve had it every year since.
“I think no matter who has had the final say in choosing teams, there’s always been complaints about some people on the roster,” said David Vincent, co-author of “The Midsummer Classic: The Complete History of Baseball’s All-Star Game.”The All-Star ballot lists one player from each team at each defensive position. Teams must decide which players to list during spring training, so key players often get left off. Rico Carty made it as a write-in in 1970, and four years later, Steve Garvey went from write-in candidate to All-Star MVP.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Davey Lopes and Reggie Jackson were All-Star starters, despite their .169 and .199 batting averages. In 1989, fans voted Mike Schmidt the NLs starting third baseman. Thanks, but no thanks, he said. He had been retired for several weeks.
By 1999, fans could vote online, and a 25-year-old Red Sox fan created a computer program that allowed him to submit 39,000 votes for Nomar Garciaparra. The commissioner’s office rejected those and has since restricted fans to 25 votes per account on mlb.com.
The most recent ballot-stuffing suspicions came in 2012, when a late 2 million vote surge from the Bay Area boosted Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval into the starting lineup over the Mets’ David Wright. Sandoval ignored the uproar and delivered a first-inning, three-run triple off Justin Verlander.
That year, MLB announced that a record 40.2 million ballots were cast. The vote totals are tabulated and authenticated by the Boston-based TMC Group.
“We are very confident in the integrity of our All-Star balloting system,” MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said in an email. “There is a limit on the number of times a fan can vote online and numerous layers of security to prevent any issues.
“TMC also monitors ballots and has ways of detecting mass punching. If we see a major swing in results, we will investigate the reason. However, the cause is usually a result of a major campaign conducted by the club to vote for one of their players.”
Seeking votes — plural The marketing campaigns are part of the fun, Twins senior director Kevin Smith said. In recent years, the Twins have handed out buttons for fans with slogans such as, “Step up to the plate; vote Mauer & Morneau in ’08.”
In 2006, when the White Sox were trying to get catcher A.J. Pierzynski elected, they handed out T-shirts that said, “Punch A.J.”
“It’s no-holds-barred, if you want,” Smith said. “You don’t have to stick to any type of protocol or procedure. You can come up with any wacky idea that you think might work. The whole goal of all of these is to excite the fan base.”
Smith said the Twins staff has invited fans to “ballot-punching parties” on the deck outside the team offices, overlooking left field.
“They can sit here and watch the game and have a couple of beers and punch ballots,” Smith said. “I think one year we even gave a prize to the person who punched the most ballots in an inning or something like that.”
Twins players have long felt the odds were stacked against them in voting because of the Twin Cities’ market size.
In 1987, Kent Hrbek vented his frustrations. He had been an All-Star as a rookie five years earlier but became incensed when nobody besides Kirby Puckett got selected in 1986 and 1987. Notable snubs included Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky.
“I’m peeved, not just for myself, but because it shows nothing for the whole team,” Hrbek said at the time. “I accepted not making it when we weren’t doing well. This I don’t accept.”
‘The fans’ game’ Last week at Target Field, two fans from Lakeville — Darin Stotz, 44, and Mark Wegner, 48 — said they fill out All-Star ballots, hoping to give their favorite Twins a boost.
Wegner said he submits eight to 10 printed ballots at the ballpark each year. Stotz said he votes about five times per year, with a couple of those coming online.
Reminded that the voting would begin Friday, Stotz said, “That’s a little early. You don’t know for some of these guys how their seasons are going to turn out.”
Baseball rules state that each team gets 23 home dates for voting. And then there’s the online rush.
“It seems a little excessive,” Stotz said. “I’ve got five different email accounts. I could log on and vote for each one 25 times.”
In a different era, Steinbach wound up making two more All-Star teams (in 1989 and 1993) and finished his 14-year career with a .271 average.
“The All-Star Game makes for great media conversation, whether it’s talk shows, or bloggers, or whatever’s out there right now,” he said. “There are good arguments, but you have to have the understanding, this is the fans’ game. They’re going to vote for who they want to see.”