In the movie comedy “Man of the Year,” the late great Robin Williams plays a popular TV talk show host who decides to run for President of the United States. In this particular saga, voting for the nation’s highest office is done – for the very first time – exclusively over the Internet. The belief is that more people will vote – thus creating a more accurate accounting of how the populous truly feels – because it’s easier to go online than go to the polls.
The results of the election turn out to be a sham of course and, in the end, the Internet voting system is proven to be a complete failure. Sadly, there can be no sequel to the movie now that Williams has passed away. Then again, you could look at the 2015 All-Star game voting debacle that’s going on right now as a kind of real-life sports version of the movie. Just like the movie, for the first time ever, all voting for the starting line-ups for the upcoming mid-summer classic is being done online… and just like the move, it stinks. Has anyone seen Jeff Goldblum lurking around?
Time was you had to actually show up at the ballpark and literally punch your favorite player’s ticket to the All-Star game. Yes, they actually had paper ballots with hanging chads and everything. And if you were interested in casting a ballot or two, you would sit there and poke out the chads next to the names of the players you wanted to see play in the All-Star game. It was a rite of late spring for most of us. Yes, you could fill out multiple ballots if you wanted to, but it was not as easy as hitting the repeat key 35 times. There was something pure about us actual fans – the people who showed up at the ballpark – doing the actual voting. Even if you wanted to vote 35 times – which is what Major League Baseball is “allowing” under the internet voting system, you probably couldn’t do it during one or two trips to the ballpark.
The current beef with the new Internet-only system stems from the fact that the Kansas City Royals, the defending American League champions, who haven’t had a player voted into the starting lineup since Jermaine Dye in 2000, currently have EIGHT players leading their respective positions. That’s eight of nine, including designated hitter. Only Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout would start along with those eight KC Royals if the American League voting ended today. Even non-conspiracy theory people are raising eyebrows. Those KC starters would include second basemen Omar Infante (hitting .210) and outfielder Alex Rios (hitting .214 and has missed a month and a half.) Yes, KC has regained lost popularity nation-wide to some extent, and they have several deserving players. But even Royals fans are sort-of embarrassed about how the voting stands right now.
The Royals claim there is no hanky panky going on, only that they have encouraged their fans to vote early and often. It’s hard to imagine (even with what’s going in with the St. Louis Cardinals and the FBI at the moment) that the club itself has done anything inappropriate. It’s NOT hard to imagine, however, that some overzealous computer hacker, err, Royals fan, has found a way to exploit the system. Which is exactly the point: Why HAVE a system that CAN be exploited?
There is no perfect system. Ballot box stuffing has been going on for years, regardless of the method of selection. Any time you have fan voting – which equates to a popularity contest – to determine the starters, you’re going to have some level of injustice. It’s just that when you expand the voting to include people all over the world, many who’ve never seen a Major League Baseball game in person or even on TV, you deepen that problem, even if there is nothing nefarious going on. What would have been a 10,000-vote mistake under the old system can become a 100,000-voter error under this one. So even with a late push by a more deserving player (which tends to happen most years) a 100,000-vote correction down the stretch is asking a lot.
To his credit, new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he is open to reexamining the current voting system and perhaps making changes if changes are deemed necessary (he’s still hoping for a correction in the final two weeks of voting). Players like Detroit pitcher David Price have ridiculed the system publicly, and if the Royals do indeed end up with eight or even six or seven AL starters, you can bet more players will come out and publicly criticize the voting system, because nothing like this has ever happened before. It’s just what the game DOESN’T need – more controversy.
Yes, there has always been and will always be some (smaller) level of controversy. For instance, on the National League side, the Colorado Rockies figure to get shafted in a big way. Don’t be shocked if Troy Tulowitzki is the lone Colorado representative (he’s currently third in the balloting, but is a good bet to move up.) The only two other serious Rox candidates are second basemen DJ LeMahieu and third basemen Nolan Arenado. Both men are reigning Gold Glove winners at their positions – although sadly defensive prowess means very little in these situations. LeMahieu is hitting a robust .332 and should be on the National League squad (Miami second basemen Dee Gordon is second in the NL in batting at .352) but isn’t in the top five of the voting. Arenado, who is hands down the best third basemen in the league, sits fourth behind the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, the Reds’ Todd Frazier and the Cubs’ rookie Kris Bryant. He’s also a long shot, despite having a sensational year to this point. You see, regardless of the system, it’s hard to eliminate the disdain for what happens in the Mountain Time Zone.
Who knows if Arenado or LeMahieu would be getting their due under the old system? Maybe. Maybe not. All we really know is that voting mistakes would not be as dramatic. The Internet-only system allows smaller mistakes to become bigger ones that are harder to correct. What the game needs is to go back to the paper ballots at the ballparks (major and minor league) and have those who attend games, along with input from players, coaches and general managers, actually choose who starts and finishes a game that determines home field advantage for the World Series.