A Cheerleading Meritocracy: Is it Time to Take Fans Out of MLB All-Star Voting?

Scott Barzilla examines the peaks and pitfalls our MLB’s current All-Star voting.

Back in high school, we used to vote for the varsity cheerleading squad every season. It was one of the more fun events of the year. All of the students filed into the gym where all of the candidates would show off their gymnastic skills in addition to whatever “talents” they had. Afterwards, we went back to the classroom and voted for our favorites.

Inevitably, we did vote for a few deserving candidates. Sally could do five consecutive back flips. That’s just GOSH DARN impressive!  On the other hand, Misty might not have any discernible athletic skills, but GOSH DARN could she really fill out a cheerleading uniform.  Cheerleaders were supposed to make you excited about watching the game, after all.

Yet, when Misty was there, there just wasn’t a whole lot of game watching going on.

In the intervening years cheerleading became a serious sport. Suddenly, popularity votes just weren’t appropriate anymore. Now, cheerleaders were being chosen on their athletic merits just like everyone else. While the adoring public may have wanted to see Misty out there jumping as many times as she could, she wasn’t going to make the cut with the cheerleading coach. As crushing as that sounds, that’s the way things should be.

Again, I was in high school. But the point remains.

In 1957, a similar thing happened in baseball. Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot box and put an all-star at every position except first base. Commissioner Bowie Kohn responded by removing the fan vote for a few seasons. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and we still have massive problems with fan bases stuffing the ballot box. Sure, the internet has helped some, but when you look at the American League ballot in particular you see some alarming trends.

The Texas Rangers have five regulars in line to start in the game. Elvis Andrus is second in the shortstop vote as well. If he gets a sudden influx of votes it will be 1957 all over again. In this case, the Rangers are legitimately the best team in the American League (unlike the also-ran Reds), but no team deserves to have five all-star game starters.

No one would confuse Mike Napoli for Misty and that analogy isn’t apt for the other guys either. They can all play, but there is an element here that bares watching. Whether we are talking cute coeds in tight sweaters or good-but-not-great players we are seeing a definite popularity contest. Popularity contests rarely ever wind up revealing truly worthy candidates.

  • Texas Rangers: 5 Regulars (5)
  • New York Yankees: 2 Regulars (4)
  • San Francisco Giants: 2 Regulars (2)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 2 Regulars (6)
  • Detroit Tigers: 1 Regular (11)
  • Boston Red Sox: 1 Regular (7)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 1 Regular (3)
  • New York Mets: 1 Regular (14)
  • Atlanta Braves: 1 Regular (16)
  • Cincinnati Reds: 1 Regular (21)   
The number in parentheses refers to ranks in attendance. 

The National League has been a bit more egalitarian lately, but we can still see some examples of hometown nepotism on the ballot. The Phillies are number one in attendance and have somehow managed to get Ryan Howard as fifth among first baseman despite not playing.

This doesn’t even mention guys like Albert Pujols who has no standing to be in the all-star game. He has gotten a ton of support from Angels fans in the process. Meanwhile, outside of the Reds, no one in the bottom ten in attendance has sniffed an all-star start.

A popularity contest for the all-star game isn’t necessarily all bad. After all, it is supposed to be an exhibition for the fans. The problem is that we’ve attached so many qualifiers to this thing. First, we have the fact that it counts for home field advantage. Now, winning is more important than it ever has been, so each league wants to put its best foot forward. Second, every team has to be represented. When you throw in four or five guys into a starting lineup that don’t belong and then tell the manager to pick someone from every team it becomes increasingly difficult to field the best team.

It takes awhile to get used to meritocracy. I never had to do it in school, but I think I would have gotten used to it. Watching a quality cheerleading performance during a timeout would add to the enjoyment of the game itself. Sure, it would be tough not seeing Misty in that cheerleading outfit, but I could check her out during the school day.

Similarly, not having a complete say in who starts may be tougher to bare at first, but everyone wants to see an improved product. Baseball needs to do a better job of promoting its stars anyway. What better way to do it than to make sure that the game’s best are actually the ones playing in the all-star classic?

Scott Barzilla writes for thefanmanifesto.com. You can also follow him on twitter at @sbarzilla. You can follow the rest of the staff at @thefanmanifesto

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