July 3, 2009

All-Star Selection (Updated)

While I was in D.C. this past weekend, my brother politely mentioned that he hardly ever finishes a post about food. I started this blog to have some fun and keep in touch with friends and family in a new and interesting way. Since food is one of the most consistent things in my life, I blog about it a lot. Today's post is dedicated to my brother; I'm trying to get back to writing about other things. I promise!

Voting for this year's All-Star Game closed last night at midnight. This Sunday marks the annual hoopla of the All-Star Game Selection Show. It's time to reflect on the spectacle that is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Every year around this time, there is a rash of articles listing sports journalists' "picks" to some fantasy All-Star team based solely on worthiness. Almost as frequent as the preseason predictions and early season "duds & studs" articles, these "picks" are almost always accompanied by some light moaning and groaning about how the fan vote, especially with fans stuffing virtual ballot boxes up to 25 times each, makes it a popularity contest, or how the modern requirement of one all-star from each team shafts some truly deserving players.

These arguments are predicated on one assumption I don't entirely buy: that the All-Star Game, with all its pomp and circumstance, is actually prestigious. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure it's an honor to be named to the team. Red Sox stalwart Tim Wakefield has never made it, and I'm really rooting for him to be there this year. I'm just not sure there's much prestige to being an all-star any more.

Let's assume briefly that there is prestige in being named, which means that perhaps the players with the best stats should go. How do we determine worthiness? Obviously the fans fail pretty miserably at that, not because most baseball fans are idiots, but because large-market teams will always benefit from having more fans (and, in the case of the Red Sox, a truly national following). And, well, because some fans are idiots. But players, manager, and writers are idiots. They are responsible for voting for the important end-of-the-year awards, and they get it wrong almost as often as they get it right. How else do you explain Nate McLouth and Michael Young both receiving Gold Gloves (managers' vote) last year. McLouth finished last in both leagues in the Dewan plus/minus system, a system developed by John Dewan and the good folks at Baseball Info Solutions to measure defensive performance. This system is one of the best at measuring defense, and it has McLouth as a staggering MINUS 40 defender last year. That basically means that McLouth made, wait for it, forty fewer plays in centerfield than a league average player. That number would improve if someone got him the hell out of centerfield, but it still boggles the mind that anyone would see Nate McLouth play centerfield and think, "Hey, this guy deserves a Gold Glove." Point is, players, managers, coaches, and writers are only marginally better at selecting players based on "worthiness" than fans, and that likely only because they don't have the chaos of the masses.

The highest honor in the game, induction in the Hall of Fame, is voted upon by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. They mostly get it right, but, as better writers than I have attested, there are problems, ranging from mule-headed voters to a pesky emphasis on character and reputation. If the selection process for the most prestigious honor in the game is flawed, then why is there so much fanfare about the selection process for an exhibition game that is, as far as I can tell, no longer even prestigious? Some of it has to do with the fact that the selection process for the All-Star Game has changed so much over the years, making it feel less entrenched than the HOF process. And, of course, most of the fanfare is harmless fun. The dialogue occasionally gets nasty, though, which is what baffles me the most. It's obviously a flawed process, but if there's a better way, I'd like to hear it.

In fact, I'm even for the one-player-from-every-team rule. It was instituted in order to take away some of the large-market bias of the fan vote and allow fans of teams like the Royals and Pirates to have some sort of rooting interest in the game.

And it does that. Quite simply, it makes the game more fun. And that's what the All-Star Game has to be about: fun. SI recently ran an article about the players that are fun to watch. Marchman takes the idea to an extreme, but I like the idea of picking players based on who is fun to watch. Of course, that preferences speed, which is more fun to watch than, say, OBP. Still, it would be lots of fun to see Ichiro, Carl Crawford, and Jacoby Ellsbury patrolling the outfield grass at Busch.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter who gets selected to the All-Star Game. For the guys who do go, it's great and fun and an honor. For the guys who don't, it's a few extra days off. But it's not like the major awards, which can cement a player's reputation (no one will move McLouth from center now that he's a Gold Glove outfielder!) and pad a HOF resume. One trip to the game doesn't really affect HOF votes at all.

Everything about the All-Star Game should be good natured. (Remember Larry Walker batting right-handed against Randy Johnson? That's the All-Star Game for you.) I'm one of the few die-hard fans who can watch the Selection Show this Sunday without yelling at my TV. That's the Zen of the All-Star Game. In the end, it's doesn't really matter, and it's all about having fun.

Update: Wakefield got an All-Star nod, and, just two days after writing this post, I got all teary-eyed listening to him talk about the honor on NESN. I suppose I never really believed what I said myself.


  1. Can I throw a wrench into things and say I rarely get to the end of a non-food post? hehehehe

  2. I just got beat to commenting on the post that was written just for me. Man, I suck.

    I agree with everything you wrote....how's that for a rarity? But what's your stance on World Series homefield going to the league that wins the All-Star game? Seems tough to have a pretty important factor hinge on a "fun" game.

  3. Yeah, but the "this time it counts" thing served its purpose by ensuring that there will never be another tie game. Honestly, though, expanded rosters do basically the same thing.

    So, yeah, it's a little bit weird to have so much hanging on an exhibition game.